Dream a Little Dream (#82 on AAR's Top 100 Romances)
An AAR Top 100 Romance
originally published on February 23, 1999
Dream A Little Dream is my very first Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Have I been living under a rock somewhere? In a manner of speaking, I guess I have, but it’s pretty comfy under here, with no controversy to speak of. Which brings me what I anticipate will be an unpopular assessment of the very popular Dream A Little Dream. Taken on its own, with no connection to the related books, DALD is a really well written book with fully-realized characters, intelligence, humor, deeply felt emotion, and a beginning, middle, and end, all in the generally accepted sequence. It’s the plot that brought this otherwise Keeper down for me.
Rachel Stone used to be married to one G. Dwayne Snopes, a charismatic televangelist-type who ripped off his devoted followers, then skipped town only to wind up dead in a plane crash, his ill-gotten millions nowhere to be found. The only real legacy he left behind was a son, Edward, and an innocent widow on whom everyone in the known Universe heaps their hatred. When G. Dwayne died, the authorities confiscated Rachel’s home, her belongings, every penny she had, and tossed her out in the street to fend for herself. Having no marketable skills, and having gone from rags-to-riches-to-rags again, orphaned Rachel must take any work she can get to support herself and her sickly little boy Edward. So desperate is Rachel, she finally decides that trading her body for a meager job is her last, best hope for survival.
Gabe Bonner would take that body in trade – he sure wants to. But Gabe’s level of despair and self-hatred runs so deep, it’s more than sex he wants from Rachel Stone. He wants to see her give up. He wants to push her down further than he himself, has fallen. He wants to find someone who can sink lower than he has since he lost his wife and young son in a car accident two years ago. But over-the-top feisty, independent Rachel won’t give an inch. She’s been living in hell for three years, and there’s nothing Gabe Bonner can do to her that hasn’t already been done, or tried.
But Gabe relents and gives Rachel a minimum wage job at his drive-in movie theater, helping him fix the place up in time for its grand re-opening. During the course of their working relationship, Gabe and Rachel begin to form a bond, eventually becoming lovers. While they still keep each other at an arm’s length emotionally, they are each the best thing that’s happened for the other in a long time, and, in their own way, they begin the long, painful process of healing.
Dream A Little Dream has a multi-layered plot, involving a large cast of complex characters. The author has an obvious and genuine talent, and I’m gladder-than-glad that I finally found her (I logged on to Amazon, and picked up as many of SEP’s backlist as I could find). But . . . having said that, this particular book had some problems I just couldn’t get past.
Rachel is simply too much to be believed. She starves herself so her child can eat. Okay, I can understand that, and would do the same thing. But a dead mom is no good at all, so she really should have used a little more common sense about her eating habits. She constantly grates on Gabe to give her a raise, but she wouldn’t let him buy her any jeans or new shoes, which would have been a damn fine trade-off, if you ask me (I hated her shoes so much, I cheered when Gabe finally took matters into his own hands). I never saw Rachel as attractive. SEP did such a good job describing how thin Rachel was, and how ugly her clothing was, and how she clomped around in those gawd-awful man’s shoes, I was too repulsed to enjoy her as a viable heroine.
Now, Gabe, on the other hand, he was perfect. I understood his sorrow, I understood his depression, and I understood why he treated Edward the way he did. Not to mention he was not only not underfed, but was an exact physical match for the MOMD (that’s man-of-my-dreams). But Cal! Not having read Nobody’s Baby But Mine, Cal came off here is a first-rate, A-class jerk, and what he did to Rachel was unforgivable. From another character, I could have accepted it . . . but from the hero’s brother . . . nope. It was at that moment this story took a dive for me and allowed all my other little niggling peeves about the book to flood in.
Now, Ethan (Gabe’s younger brother), on the other hand, he was perfect. Ethan, I got. Ethan, I understood. Ethan, I wanted. Ethan and Kristy’s story was wonderful, and I believed them as a couple far easier than I did Gabe and Rachel. I know I’m not the first to have said it, but Ethan and Kristy were so hot, they deserved a book of their own.
In a nutshell, I’m sure not sorry I read DALD – parts of it were terrific. It’s the parts that weren’t that gave me this sour disposition you see here today.