A Scandalous Affair
I don’t know about you, but I’ve read way too many contemporary romances featuring virginal or sexually-unawakened heroines in their 30s. I’ve also read too many romances that either ignore race entirely or try to present all possible sides of the issue, robbing it of its power. Donna Hill has written a romance about sexually experienced grownups who are deeply outraged about institutionalized racism and who plan to do something about it. It’s quite refreshing.
In A Scandalous Affair we meet the Montgomery sisters: Simone, a city councilwoman in Washington D.C., and her step-sister Samantha, who is a nationally-known civil rights worker. They are intelligent, ambitious, courageous, and they love each other dearly. Their childhood friend, lawyer Chad Rushmore, comes back into their lives with a stunning proposal: he wants their help in filing a class action suit against the Washington D.C. police department on behalf of victims of racially-motivated police brutality. If they win, the lawsuit will be precedent-setting and will change the relationship between police departments and the public they serve all over the country. Simone and Samantha enthusiastically agree to help.
Simone once had an affair with Chad, and she has secretly clung to her feelings for him for years. But she believes it’s best to keep the past in the past … until she sees how close Chad is getting to Samantha. Samantha once adored Chad like a little sister. Now she sees her chance to meet him as an equal, and there’s nothing sisterly about her feelings. Chad is more than a little attracted to the forthright Samantha, but how can he commit to her when he still has feelings for Simone?
This love-triangle is very well-balanced. I understood the motivations and actions of all three characters. Samantha is a woman who knows what she wants, she’s not shy about taking the risk to go for it. In the hands of another writer, Simone, the dispossessed woman, could have gotten the short end of the stick. In this book, Simone’s anger and jealousy were portrayed in such a way that I found her to be the book’s most sympathetic character. We also learn a great deal about the complex dynamics of the Montgomery family.
I didn’t know how A Scandalous Affair was going to end until I got to the end, and that hasn’t happened in a long time. Although there were quite a few points-of-view in this book, something I normally don’t like, it didn’t bother me here (except for one completely unnecessary passage which is written in a villain’s POV).
A Scandalous Affair does have some flaws, chiefly in the writing style. Hill delights in giving copious details about clothes and furniture, giving the book a soap-opera sort of feel to it. Passages like “her 36B breasts were still high and firm” are perhaps more specific than necessary. Hill also idealizes her heroine, so much so that she’s hard to relate to: could anyone really be as strong, beautiful, athletic, intelligent, sexy, and all-around fabulous as Samantha?
Some readers might find the author’s undisguised opinions about racism to be a bit in-your-face. She makes no effort to be unbiased about race relations – and why should she? I may not agree with all of Hill’s assessments, but I believe that romance novels have been silent on this topic for too long.
All in all, A Scandalous Affair is a racy, exciting book about people I respect who face a difficult crisis and still get their happily-ever-after. It ended on exactly the right note: Hill respects our intelligence too much to assure us that the future will be entirely sunny for these people and their cause, but we know that they will continue to fight for what they believe in. And there’s not a shy virgin in the bunch. I recommend it.