Queen is quite possibly the most emotionally manipulative book I’ve ever read. Unfortunately, due to its poor writing quality, excessive head hopping, and lack of character development, all of its intrinsic machinations come to naught. I didn’t care at all about any of the characters, and I thought the story was supremely ridiculous and annoying.
Queen Houston is one of Johnny Houston’s three daughters. Since Johnny is a no-account gambler and there’s no woman in the house, Queen is stuck raising her younger sisters and playing housewife. Johnny finally dies when Queen is twenty-eight, and all of the girls strike out in different directions. Queen decides to take her portion of the money raised from selling the house and head to Arizona. She has no job, no prospects, and no idea what she will be doing, but Arizona seems as good a place as any and much better than Cradle Creek, Tennessee where she grew up in the shadow of poverty and Johnny’s shady reputation.
Due to a transportation mishap, Queen winds up in Snow Gap, Colorado, and there she witnesses three children who are about to be taken in by Social Services. Their father has gone missing, and in attempting to locate him, the authorities know the children are alone. Recognizing the look of panic in their eyes (Queen sees in them herself and her two sisters), Queen steps up to the plate and tells the sheriff she’s their aunt. She takes them home and waits for their irresponsible parent to return.
However, it turns out that Cody Bonner is anything but irresponsible (of course!). He simply left his keys in his car in Denver, and it was stolen and used in a bank robbery. For the past three days, he’s been under arrest. When he comes home, he is so grateful to Queen for taking care of his boys and so keenly aware of the precarious position of his children (poor, motherless things!), that he offers her a job as his housekeeper. Queen accepts because she feels responsible for the boys, but over time she comes to see how attractive and kind Cody is as well.
First of all, the set-up of the story is preposterous. Cody is so concerned that his children will be unsupervised, but he is retired from the military and doesn’t have a day job. What are the chances that this stolen-car-accidental-arrest incident is going to happen again? And if he’s so worried about his children’s welfare, why doesn’t he look into Queen’s background? Wouldn’t that be mandatory for any responsible parent? Cody is described as being intelligent and reliable, but he certainly doesn’t behave that way.
The rest of the characters are either undeveloped or one-dimensional. Queen is the heroine, but the reader knows nothing about her except that she has domestic skills and that she had a bad childhood. What was she doing in Cradle Creek until she was twenty-eight? Who knows? It’s never spelled out. Her sisters weren’t that much younger than she was, so she couldn’t have been “mothering” them all that time. But no other background information is given. Cody is similarly undefined. He’s ex-military, he had a bad experience in the Gulf War, and his ex-wife was cold and uncaring. Other than that he has no past.
The children and Cody’s in-laws are all flimsy cardboard characters. Cody’s mother-in-law is the Eeeevil bitch who’s out to get him at any cost. Why? Because she’s Baaaaad. She’s just bad. Born bad. Bad to the bone. The children are too perfect to be real. They love their Queenie; they want to spend every possible moment with her. Even the thirteen-year-old will sit still to hear her tell stories. The little ones tear up thinking how much she means to them.
When it comes to style, think head hopping. In every page we get into the head of at least two characters and as the story progresses, we know what every character, no matter how unimportant, is thinking. In addition, the omniscient viewpoint sneaks in every so often to tell us what the characters don’t know about themselves or their futures. All this point-of-view shifting makes the book an agony to read, and it distances the reader from the characters. The reader never stays in the head of any one character long enough to acquire any intimacy with him. Instead of developing character or having the characters’ actions show how they feel, Sala just explains everything – every feeling and emotion – and there is no interpretation required by the reader.
Add to the above problems excessive cheesiness and unrealistic dialogue. After Queen and Cody make love for the first time, Cody tells her, “Rest. There’ll be plenty of time to talk later. Right now I just want to feel the love.” Feel the love? Can you imagine a real guy saying that? An informal survey of my husband, my brother-in-law, and my father revealed that, in fact, no living, breathing man would say that under any circumstance except as a joke. My husband laughed just thinking about it.
Finally, there’s the non-existent plot. It isn’t as if nothing happens in the book. Plenty of stuff happens. This happens, then that happens and then some more happens too. But it’s all just stuff meandering towards an end. What should be the emotional climax of the story – when Queen and Cody declare their love – happens well before the end, and then we’re treated to an extra 40 pages of hugely manipulative side plot that wasn’t at all necessary except to redeem the Eeeevil mother-in-law who was so cardboardy that redemption shouldn’t have even been possible, at least in the world as it currently exists.
Perhaps this review seems harsh, but if I were the editor of Queen, my copy would be completely obliterated with red pencil. Even revision wouldn’t help because the point-of-view problems are so pervasive and distracting. There’s a good story here under all the mess, but to get at it would take massive rewriting. Frankly, it makes me angry that this book was even reissued. Surely Avon could have re-released something better. I’ve never written an F review before because I rarely come across a book that bad. But Queen deserves its F. It’s truly a failing effort.