Bed of Roses

Home at Last

Imagine Love

Sisters & Secrets

A Midnight Clear by Katherine Stone
(Warner, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-446-60678-2
A Midnight Clear is such a peculiar book that I hardly know where to begin in reviewing it. I’d call it more a new-age love story than a traditional romance, but it’s also got a slight suspense/mystery angle that feels at odds with the book’s ponderous and mystic tone.

The plot is also going to be difficult to summarize, but let me just start with this warning -- you’re going to need to be willing to suspend a lot of disbelief to swallow all the things that happen in this story. There’s very little here that seems to have any connection with reality -- at least, the reality that I think most people have experienced.

But maybe that’s presumptuous. I wish I could see a show of hands. How many of you have ever turned to a stranger next to you on a plane and opened a conversation with the line, “Tell me what you’re thinking”?

Not, “So, going to London, huh?” or “Say, what’s that you’re reading?” In this book, when Julia Hayley sits down next to Jace Colton on a flight to London, their conversation ensues with the line above, and they become enveloped in a “stratospheric magic… a spell that banished pain and vanquished fear.”

Well, between the two of them, they’ve definitely got a lot of pain and fear, so I guess a magic spell is the only thing that would get them talking. Let me give you just the barest bones of their respective stories.

Jace is a fabulously wealthy trauma surgeon who owns a hospital, does all the administration for it, and still finds time to work full shifts in the emergency room and make missions of mercy to war-torn areas of the world on a regular basis. Born the unwanted bastard child of a stripper, he left home at age 13 and found the first warmth and love he’d ever known, only to have it ripped mercilessly from him. Now, he’s a workaholic seriously tortured by the demons of his past and unable -- unwilling -- to let anyone glimpse the tormented man beneath the icy-cold veneer.

Julia is a 28-year-old recluse who has never had much contact with the world. Also unwanted by her mother, she was raised and home-schooled by her great-aunt. When her mother produced a second child 14 years after Julia, she left this child with “Gran” as well. But the new baby, Winnie, was born with untreatable skeletal and neurological damage, and both Gran and Winnie were gone by Julia’s 21st birthday, leaving her utterly alone in the world. Now, she’s decided it’s time for her to move out of Gran’s house and try to build a new life for herself.

Both Jace and Julia are headed to London to spend the Christmas holidays alone, but on the plane they find a strange and mesmerizing kinship with each other that compels them to spend the time together instead. There seems to be no hope of a future for them -- Jace is bound for the Balkans on one of his missions, and Julia’s heading for her new life in Seattle. All they have are a few days in London -- during which they reveal all their deepest fears and darkest secrets and form a psychic connection.

Now, back to my dilemma, how do I review such an odd book? Did I find the characters to be realistic? Well, they’re not remotely like anyone I’ve ever known. Is the love story compelling? Depends on your ability to accept its metaphysical nature. Did I enjoy reading the book? I think you can guess my answer to that.

I’ve never read a book so completely devoid of humor or lightheartedness, for one thing. I’m not saying that every book should be a laugh-riot, but these characters barely have the heart to crack a smile. At one point, the author does tell us that Jace actually laughs, but also informs us that such a sound “had never been heard before.” The man is in his thirties and he’s never laughed before, ever?

And then there’s the writing. I’ll say this -- it’s definitely a unique style. Unfortunately, I found that style to be relentlessly melodramatic, intrusively elaborate, and breathlessly sentimental. Page after page contained some phrase or paragraph that was obtrusive enough to knock me right out of the story. To give you some idea of what I mean, here’s what’s written to describe the simple act of a person noticing a seat-mate on a plane.

“He knew that it was she not Alexis who had taken the seat beside his. He saw her reflection in the window - the window, surely, and yet it seemed, it felt, as if Jace Colton was seeing her reflected off a crystalline mirror of snow… And it seemed, it felt, as if she was seeing him, too, his eyes, in a mirror of perfect crystal.”

I though I’d surely get used to this sort of thing after few chapters, but it never ceased to bother me. And the dialogue is speechy and unnatural as well -- instead of a simple “What are you afraid of?” for example, these people have to say “What do you fear?” Every line of dialogue is like a solemn pronouncement.

If all this sounds like the kind of thing you’d enjoy, have at it, but it didn’t work for me, and I just can’t recommend it.

--Ellen Hestand

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