Bed of Roses by Katherine Stone
(Warner, $22.00, G) ISBN 0-446-52179-5
***
Have you ever asked yourself, "What's the difference between Romance and Women's Fiction?" It's an interesting question and not easily answered. Some would say that a romance is less complicated than women's fiction, that it takes place over a shorter period of time, that it centers more on the relationship between the hero and heroine than on the plot devices, whatever these might be. But all of us can name scads of romances that don't really have the above characteristics. The fact is that, except for the happy ending, there is no simple definition of a romance and yet all romance fans know one when they see it. Well, this romance fan sees Katherine Stone's latest novel as "women's fiction" rather than a romance, despite its happy ending.

As is typical of a Stone novel, there are several intertwining love stories in Bed of Roses. The primary couple is Cassandra Winter and Chase Tessier. The primary secondary couple is Hope Tessier (Chase's sister and Cassie's friend) and Nicholas Wolfe. The tertiary couple is Victor Tessier (Chase's adoptive father and Hope's putative father) and Jane Parish who were separated as young lovers. And the quartiary couple is grandmotherly Eleanor McBride and her retired archeological professor swain. (Whew!)

The story begins at a Los Angeles hospital where the press is anxiously awaiting news of the fate of film star Cassandra Winter who was found in her Hollywood home by her lover actor Robert Forrest brutally beaten and near death. The press, Cassie's agent, and Robert are stunned when famous vintner Chase Tessier strides into the hospital and announces that he is her husband of eight years. Cassie had fled her marriage after a mere three months, but there had been no divorce because the terms of his manipulative mother's will required that he marry and stay married for ten years to gain his inheritance.

Most of the story is told through flashbacks. We meet Cassie as she arrives in the Napa Valley with her good friend Hope eight years earlier. Neither Cassie nor Hope is in very good psychological shape, both having been wounded by uncaring and selfish parents. Cassie had dealt with her problems by creating a variety of personae and acting her way through life. Hope ate.

Cassie is enchanted by the valley and by Chase; Chase is enchanted by the fragile girl-woman he calls his Tinkerbell. They marry, but when she suddenly leaves, he is at a loss to know how to treat his ethereal wife and accepts her decision to part. She becomes in fact, the actress she always has been and Chase can only hope she has found contentment.

Hope had only one true friend before Cassie the mysterious Nicholas Wolfe who had been a counselor at the exclusive summer camp she had attended at 13. Nicholas enters her life again briefly four years later, just in time to see her selfish mother destroy herself and almost destroy Hope. He reappears again as the story proceeds.

I could go on with plot description, but I think you get the idea. There is an awfully lot going on in this story. And there are, for this reader at least, a few too many implausible coincidences driving the story.

When I try to explain my less than enthusiastic reaction to Bed of Roses, what comes to the forefront is that I just couldn't warm up to the characters and couldn't really understand them or their motivations. The heroines Cassie and Hope are prototypical "wounded" heroines. Cassie, in particular, seems passive in the extreme; Hope, at least, betrays a little gumption. The heroes are also somewhat problematic. Chase's acceptance of Cassie's abandonment doesn't make sense to me; Nick's passivity when the long anticipated worst happens seems likewise out of character.

You know, I think I may have finally pinpointed the difference between romance and women's fiction. The former has characters you care about and root for, a heroine and hero who strive and struggle and win. Women's fiction has characters who have things happen to them. Lots happens to the characters in Bed of Roses, but, too much of the time, I didn't care.

--Jean Mason


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