The plot of Carolyn Davidson’s Eden isn’t bad. The characters, though, pushed it into the C rage of grading. And then it was the writing that brought it down to the D.
Katie spent years being mistreated and abused by her “guardians,” a family that took her in as a charity case and used her for slave labor. When the abuse begins to turn from physical to sexual, though, she escapes, and finds herself at a saloon. There, she is rescued by John Roper, the foreman from a local ranch. He sees the bruises and skittish behavior, and decides to give her a job as his cook and housekeeper.
Soon after she comes to live with him, John begins to feel attracted to her. However, his deceased wife ruined him for marriage after she was unfaithful to him, so he’s upfront about the fact that he will never marry Katie. But when the family she escaped from threatens her, the protection of John’s name seems to be necessary – and so he agrees to marry her. He continues to fall for her, she continues to settle in and be more confident, and her ‘sister,’ another girl who was used by her former guardians, escapes and comes live with them. However, the threat of that family, and of Katie’s potential infidelity, hangs over John’s head.
The author tried to make Katie a sympathetic, tortured heroine, but in my opinion, she failed. I found Katie far more pitiful than pitiable; she was unaccountably naïve and acted like a kicked puppy afraid to ask for scraps most of the time. I realize that abuse leaves scars on people, but it’s been handled much better in so many other books. In making Katie’s circumstances so dire, the author robbed her of her own inner strength. Along with this, Katie’s naiveté and innocence made her seem much younger than her 18 years – making the not insignificant age difference between her and John even more prevalent. She seemed far too young for him; they had absolutely no chemistry.
I had problems with John in this regard, as well; when he first meets Katie, he refers to her as a child and needing protection and as a young girl – then, with almost no transition, he wants her in bed. It wasn’t quite inappropriate, but it definitely edged a bit too close for me. I started out thinking John was a paragon of masculinity, a perfect man who will do anything to protect Katie, but then he swung in the opposite direction, being jealous, possessive, making unfound assumptions about her, using her for sex, and basically being a complete idiot.
However, these issues aside, it really was the writing that bugged me the most. It was just so… purple. Bizarrely worded descriptions, a surfeit of synonyms, and way too many words to say one thing. If you cut out the unnecessary or redundant words or phrases, the book would probably be a hundred pages shorter. It didn’t bother me as much in the beginning, but as the writing got more and more convoluted, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Repeatedly. By the end, I was just so sick of reading, I couldn’t wait for it to be over. Honestly, I don’t put all that much blame on the author for this; some people just tend to write wordily. I’m one of them, and I know it. But that’s what editors are for, and I just can’t believe that this book had ever seen an editor’s red pen.
As I said, the plot had potential. The story line itself did intrigue me, and it made finishing Eden much easier than it could have been. But my complete lack of empathy for a character like Katie, irritation with the hero, and frustration with the writing doomed the book for me.