Public Displays of Affection
Clearly, Susan Donovan is an author who shows no signs of falling into a rut. And, while it’s hard not to admire the author for her adventurous approach to writing and her determination to write a book largely unlike last year’s Take A Chance On Me, it’s equally hard not to admit that Public Displays Of Affection doesn’t pack quite the powerhouse punch of that last release. Donovan’s newest is solid, well written, and tells a terrific story, but those expecting the same precise balance of emotional intensity and LOL moments won’t find it here.
Part of the problem lies with the story itself, which requires a substantial suspension of disbelief. As readers we’re asked to accept that two participants in an anonymous Washington, D.C. road-side tryst thirteen years earlier somehow manage to find themselve living next door to each other in a small Ohio town. To make matters even more incredible, both Charlotte Tasker, newly widowed soccer mom, and DEA agent Joe Bellacera have fantasized about the other ever since their fateful encounter.
Still shell-shocked from the death of her husband a year and a half earlier, Charlotte spends her days running a personal errand business, being a mom to her young son and daughter, and, in her own fumbling way, trying to come to terms with her own sexuality. When the house next door is sold to a mysterious buyer, both Charlotte and her children find themselves intrigued with the handsome man who moves in.
Joe isn’t happy about being stuck in a burg like Minton, Ohio. Unfortunately, the studly agent has little choice since he needs a place to stay safe and hidden from the drug lord who’s set a high price for his head (literally) until he can testify at trial. To make matters even more frustrating, Joe’s lonely suburban existence in his hideout leaves him with a bit too much time to brood about the murder of his partner and his partner’s family by the same drug gang. Things get a bit more interesting for Joe, however, when he is shocked to recognize Charlotte as the lover he’s never forgotten and never come even close to getting over.
Susan Donovan excels at creating real characters who come blazingly to life and Charlotte and Joe are no exception. Lonely and increasingly preoccupied with her sexuality, Charlotte’s confusion, desire, fear, and guilt are skillfully portrayed. Though Joe is a bit more of a mystery, I believed in his surrender to love and his growing feelings for Charlotte – a woman who is far, far more than the mythical creature of his imagination.
The connection between these two characters builds realistically from their lustful foundation, as each grows to love the other for the people they are. Still, I had a hard time accepting that both were so moved by anonymous sex years earlier that it’s largely been the foundation around which their fantasy lives revolved during the intervening years. It was a fundamental problem for me that I never really got over.
But again, on the positive side, there are those characters. In addition to Charlotte and Joe, Ms. Donovan peoples her town with secondary characters everybody knows – from lonely divorcees to aging town Romeos – and the author’s skill in portraying real people is always spot on. Even more impressive, Charlotte’s two children are real kids doing their best to adjust to a devastating blow and the author never trivializes their loss.
But there’s something else I have to mention that’s far less positive. Charlotte expresses herself by writing erotic poetry that Ms. Donovan shares a bit too often with the reader. To be honest, this poetry is, well…bad and I found myself torn between cringing and laughing out loud at these painfully lame exercises in self expression.
When all is said and done, Public Displays Of Affection is skillfully written story by an extremely talented author. If it’s not quite the home run that the author has certainly proven she can deliver, it is a book that fans of terrific contemporary romance won’t want to miss.