Say Uncle ... and Aunt by Suzy Pizzuti
(Waterbrook Press, $6.95, G) ISBN 1-57856-044-6
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Say Uncle ... and Aunt is a title in A Time for Laughter ... and Romance series. This series of inspirational romances features romances with a Christian viewpoint that come with a "giggle guarantee." Unless readers find humor in confusion and misunderstandings caused by hearing loss among the elderly and consider the movie Mr. Mom a classic of comedic excellence, that's a guarantee this book doesn't keep. Not only didn't I produce a single giggle, I didn't feel any urge to smile either. There's a difference between humor and stupid silliness. This book falls on the wrong side of that distinction.

Say Uncle is the first of several romances which will be set in Hattie Hopkin's boarding house in McLaughlin, Vermont. Hattie is a kind, elderly woman who suffers from severe hearing loss. She has a close personal relationship with God, and her prayers are always answered

Julia Evans is a committed career woman with a nursing home supply company who has had a job transfer to the area. Two weeks prior to beginning her new job, she rents a room in Hattie's boarding house. She is charmed by the Victorian architecture and decor as well as by the eccentric personality of her landlady who hears that her name is Beulah and she's a nurse.

Sean Flannigan (who Hattie calls 'Don') is another of Hattie's boarders. He is hoping to receive a job promotion and asks that Hattie pray for him. Hattie, however, hears that he wants two weeks vacation and communicates that desire in her prayer.

Julia and Sean are immediately attracted to each other because they're so good-looking, but before anything can develop, Sean's sister arrives and dumps her nine month-old daughter, CarlyAnn, on him so she can go on a two-week business trip. Sean has not received the hoped-for promotion but surprise! has gotten an unexpected two weeks' vacation. Of course, Sean knows absolutely nothing about childcare, and his sister's hurried instructions are virtually useless.

Julia and Sean end up spending the two weeks dealing with typical baby behavior and liking each other better and better. They occasionally pray, attend church services and think about where their life priorities should be.

That's all, folks. No gripping character conflict; no courageous struggle against overpowering odds; no heart-stopping excitement. The big challenges presented are: can Sean figure out how to put on a diaper, what's going to be the surprise costume for the Characters of the Bible costume party competition, and wouldn't it be better to be a mommy than a career woman.

None of the character development is better than superficial. Julia and Sean (or Beulah and Don) spend most of their time admiring each other and engaging in small talk. He's so good looking. She's so lovely. They're so boring.

Besides Julia, Sean, and Hattie, the story introduces a number of secondary characters who are presumably there to provide more humorous episodes. There are several other boarders including three elderly people whose understanding is on a par with Hattie's and who have varying levels of garrulousness. These people are into the second childhood of the fractious and terminally confused. One elderly character can't figure out if there are one or two babies. A continuing topic is whether an elderly woman should wear a two-piece swimsuit. This is supposed to be funny? If this is typical old age, dying young has its up-side.

Since this is an inspirational romance with an intentional Christian message, I believe it's not unfair to comment on some of the religious inferences present in this story. If God is omnipotent and omniscient, why is He answering Hattie's prayer as she voiced it rather than as it should have been worded if she'd heard it properly? Doesn't God know that Hattie fouled it up? And if all persons are equal in God's eyes, why is He answering all of Hattie's prayers while ignoring the prayers of others? Surely God isn't playing favorites!

I found little to like in this book. The target audience for this series is the young adult woman. I may not be part of the demographic group, but I've read children's books with more depth than this. I prefer to believe that the young adult woman would rather have some substance to her books and is able to enjoy humor that isn't primarily dependent on the cluelessness of males and the frailties of the elderly.

I don't doubt that an inspirational romance can have the literary quality of more sectarian romances. Other romances, such as Laura Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm, have dealt with a religious theme. Inspirational romances don't have a corner on admirable characters; romance readers want their heroes and heroines to be good, decent people who respond to difficulties with honor and integrity. Based on this book, however, a reader could be forgiven if she were to decide she'd rather read about sinners than decent church-going types.

--Lesley Dunlap


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