The Harder They Fall by Jill Shalvis
(Loveswept #885, $3.50, PG) ISBN 0-553-44623-1
***
The Harder They Fall has the distinction of being the only book I've reviewed that I've had to stop reading two-thirds of the way through and start again. I couldn't get a handle on why these characters behaved so erratically, so out of character from the way they're initially described. So I started reading again to see why I was so befuddled, to see where I had lost my way.

I know that there is such a thing as an 'author's voice.' Jill Shalvis may be a fine writer; but in this book she just doesn't speak to me. I never appreciated this story and was lost, not to the actual plot line, but to the motivations.

Put together a rocket scientist (literally) and a woman who owns a lingerie shop. Mix in childhood angst, self-doubts, promises to resist romantic involvement and you've got the gist of The Harder They Fall.

NASA scientist Dr. Hunter Adams and lingerie store owner Trisha Mallory are two people with very different backgrounds. Hunter had a "wild and out of control childhood with wild and out-of-control parents." A "military uncle and a church-crazed aunt" raised Trisha. The family moved eighteen times in eighteen years. These two are so determined to counter the effects of their childhood that they have made promises to themselves that are proving difficult to keep.

Hunter inherits a duplex from his aunt, but the house comes with a tenant. Trisha has a lifetime lease and is visibly reluctant to move, even though she's got multiple holes in her upstairs floor that lead directly to Hunter's ceiling. We know it's unsafe when she falls through a hole in her floor into Hunter's arms, while he's unzipped and in the bathroom. Thankfully the scene never takes the predictably tasteless path of voyeurism.

Hunter is reluctant to talk about his hangups. For one thing, he's got spendthrift divorced parents who regularly come to him for money. The source of his money is a mystery. If the source was mentioned, it was mentioned so briefly that I missed it. I really don't think that NASA employees are paid that well. Hunter has cultivated the image of being stodgy so that he won't appear as capricious as his family. Cultivating that image is hard to do because underneath the veneer he's a nice guy with the ability to empathize with others. That's why he's reluctantly drawn to Trisha. He senses a kindred, wounded soul, but two broken engagements have led him to believe that he's dull. Au contraire, mon ami.

Trisha really does have hangups. She was reared by an aunt and uncle whose theory of child rearing would have made Hitler proud. Trisha's aunt dressed her in oversized clothing to hide her budding sexuality. Those eighteen moves in eighteen years left her with no sense of stability. With her aunt's recent death, Trisha has finally broken free and done some things she's always wanted. Coming out of her cocoon is painful, though. Those many years of constant criticisms have left scars.

To have fully appreciated this story would have taken more time than I have. Hunter and Trisha would behave predictably, according to their backgrounds, at least occasionally. Then both of them would do something terribly out of character. I like spontaneity, but I want some reasons for that change in behavior. I just really couldn't figure these people out. This pushmepullyou reading experience was sometimes frustrating.

I can't recommend The Harder They Fall because I didn't appreciate it. I didn't understand it. I didn't like being confused. If this doesn't make too much sense, then that's how I felt reading it. We all have bad hair days. Maybe I had a bad reading day.

--Linda Mowery


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