Baby, Drive South
As I was reading Baby, Drive South, I tried to think of the worst nickname I’d ever seen a hero give a heroine in a romance. On the whole, the nod probably goes to “Sis” – a nickname I encountered early in my reviewing career (the heroine was not, thankfully, the hero’s sister). But honorable mention surely must go to “little lady doc,” the patronizing moniker Porter Armstrong gives heroine Nikki Salinger. Unfortunately, the annoying nickname is just one of many problems with this book.
Porter Armstrong’s hometown, Sweetness, Georgia, was completely obliterated by a tornado ten years ago. Now he and his two brothers have received a federal grant to rebuild the town around as a green town focused on recycling as an industry. But one thing is missing: There are almost no women. After some debate, the brother place an ad in a small-town Michigan paper asking for 100 women to come and build their lives in Sweetness.
I know what you’re thinking. That this book is set in 1936. Or some time pre-internet. Or maybe that it’s really a Little House on the Prairie episode, but with sex. You would be wrong. We are supposed to believe that a caravan of women from one small, economically depressed Michigan town descends on Sweetness, Georgia in the hopes that they will all marry the local workforce, who all appear to be semi-literate construction workers, except for the three Armstrong brothers. Because that sounds like something modern professional women would do.
Porter is so excited to see the caravan of women coming that he falls off the town’s water tower and breaks his leg. Don’t worry, because this will not get in the way of his sex life or any other daily activities the way it would for you or me. It does give him an immediate reason to meet Nikki Sallinger, a doctor who is on the rebound after her fiance dumps her for a stripper. Porter insults her at first, asking whether someone prettier can help him. Because he has apparently been raised by wolves, likely the same ones who taught him that women like to be called “Little Lady” anything. Nikki treats him, but is pretty sure she won’t stay in Sweetness.
And that’s really the plot of the book. Will Nikki stay in Sweetness? For most of the book (and by that I mean all but the last five pages or so) Nikki wants to leave. Porter makes sure she’ll stay for a little while at least when he disables the fuel pump in her van, and he promises his brothers that he’ll make her stay. She has some competition, though. “Doc” Riley has been treating the men with home remedies like bacon and duct tape. The men don’t trust a little lady doc to treat their big manly wounds (like I said, this would have made more sense in 1936. Or maybe 1836), and none of them men appear to be familiar with the concept of antibiotics. Those haven’t hit Georgia yet, apparently. That crazy doctor and her new-fangled ideas!
Porter falls for the little lady doc, and decides she’s maybe pretty after all. She is attracted to Porter but unwilling to make a commitment to him or his Utopian experiment. And the reader is dragged along for the improbable ride as they pull various stunts – like setting a deer’s broken leg. Would anyone really do that? That’s just one of the many logical questions that just keep popping up. The most obvious is whether there are really 100 women – all single, all at loose ends – in any small town who would be up for this. But one also wonders why the brothers didn’t set up a website and screen people. Or why someone with a broken leg would have sex in a bathtub. Or how out of 100 women from a small town, half would be vegetarians.
But really there’s no reason to ask these questions, because there no compelling reason to read this book in the first place. The only thing I can say in its defense is that it didn’t drag; I raced right through every ridiculous word. If, however, this books sounds like your cup of tea, I have some good news: The next book in the series has what appears to be the exact same plot (just replace doctor heroine with engineer heroine). As for me, I’ll pass on that one.