There was recently some discussion on the boards about how this book was similar to an earlier Wolf title, Beloved Stranger. I was a little concerned about reviewing it, since, having never read anything by Wolf before, the similarities would mean nothing to me. I needn’t have worried. If the story is derivative, that’s the least of its problems.
Kate Foley has dedicated herself to two things: her family’s horse farm, and Ben, the nephew she adopted after the death of her sister. Colleen never revealed the identity of the boy’s father, and Kate is happy not to have the man in their lives. Then New York Yankees pitcher Daniel Montero appears at the farm, having just learned of his son’s existence. Daniel intends to be a part of his son’s life, despite Kate’s over-the-top insistence that she wants nothing to do with him.
High Meadow is not a poorly written book. At first, the crisp writing style and easy storytelling made it easy to get into. It flows well enough. But its one-note characters and lack of compelling scenes are ultimately so wearing that the book seems endless.
Kate starts out as utterly hateful. I can’t remember a book where I found myself muttering “b*tch” under my breath every time a romance heroine opened her mouth. She’s rude, she’s shrill, she’s mean – she even makes offensive statements about the hero’s birth country. Her hostility is so far out of proportion with the situation I started rooting for Daniel to snatch the kid and get him as far away from this vile shrew as possible. But when she finally calms down and gets over herself, the book actually gets worse, because there is zero conflict, and more than 300 pages left to go.
The problem with the characters in High Meadow is that, with the exception of Kate, they are all perfect. Daniel is honorable, a terrific athlete, and so slick I’m surprised he doesn’t slide off the furniture every time he tries to sit down. Perhaps the mild chauvinism he exhibits every once in a while (i.e. women should always be around to take care of the children) is supposed to deepen the character. These moments are so brief, few, and far between they barely make an impact. The fact that Daniel didn’t run screaming from Kate and shows an inordinate amount of patience in the face of her hideousness has to outweigh any of his outdated notions.
As far as the secondary characters are concerned, they’re equally “perfect.” Kate’s mother Molly is kind and sweet and sensible. Daniel’s parents are rich, supportive, and loving. Ben is the type of sugary-sweet, relentlessly adorable moppet that makes it seem like he’s been possessed by some kind of cuteness demon. There is something almost frightening in how unnaturally perfect he is, with his phony “childlike” way of speaking and cutesy behavior. Granted, Kate isn’t quite so simple to categorize. She has some daddy issues and she’s somehow never been in a relationship with a man, none of which is explored with real depth.
Once Kate stops shrieking, she and Daniel seem to like each other just fine, leading to a passionless romance. Meanwhile, in a subplot, Molly is diagnosed with breast cancer, but she’s far too sweet and good to let it faze her. If High Meadow were a movie, Molly’s symptoms would amount to nothing more than backlighting and looking beatific. Wolf’s storytelling is as sterile as the hospitals Molly finds herself in (a very few times), which prevents these events from moving or having any effect on the reader. I don’t need scene after scene of pain and misery, but the subplot passes so easily the illness seems trivial. At one point Kate looks at how wonderful Daniel and Ben’s relationship is and how close they are and, in a throwaway line, thinks, “This would be so nice…if only Mom didn’t have cancer.” That’s about how serious it seems. Everything is so perfect, except for that darn cancer.
High Meadow covers approximately eight or nine months in the lives of these characters, but instead of feeling rushed, with the author having to cover so much time in only 400 pages, they drag on. The story is made up of a series of small incidents and minor occurrences, none of which have any are particularly exciting or dramatic. They go on a date. They have Christmas. Daniel’s parents visit. Molly dates Daniel’s valet. Kate has her horses. It goes on and on, things happening, and yet so very little. There’s no conflict, no tension, little in the way of action, just one flat, boring scene after another. The baseball scenes have no life or drama. They’re about as exciting as reading the box score in the newspaper the morning after. Wolf even briefly throws pedophiles and child porn into the mix, an element resolved so quickly it serves no purpose other than to turn the reader’s stomach for a few pages.
The author does finally introduce an obstacle – or at least a small pothole – to the relationship in the last quarter of the book. Is it dramatic? Potentially, but just like everything else in the book it falls flat. Wolf’s telling of these events is so cool and detached it completely fails to stir any kind of emotion. Worse, it seems like nothing more than exactly what it is, a forced attempt to drag out the story as long as possible when it’s clear the characters already love each other and should be together. It’s so predictable, so obvious, so tension-free that there is no way it can sustain a hundred pages, yet Wolf intends it to do just that.
The book I read for review directly before High Meadow had a heroine whose experiences with breast cancer did have an effect on her life, and a dramatic romance between the parent of a secret child and the sibling of the other parent. That book, Midnight Choices by Eileen Wilks, was 150 pages shorter than this one, yet covered its issues with more substance and was 150 percent more compelling.
As for High Meadow, around page two hundred, I was ready for the book to be over. There were 190 pages to go. I started to plow through it, fearing that if I set it down I would not pick it up again. Then the worst happened. I fell asleep reading it, and the whole next day faced the prospect of picking it up again. My suggestion to readers considering this book would be not to condemn yourselves to that. It is not a good feeling, and this is not a good book.