The Burning Point
Let me preface my remarks by saying that this is the most difficult review I’ve ever written. Mary Jo Putney is not only one of my favorite authors, but one whom I admire for the tough choices she makes in the material she addresses. Having said that, her first contemporary, The Burning Point is not only a disappointment for me, but involves an issue with which I am personally uncomfortable. I’m sure many readers will feel the same way.
The hero of The Burning Point, Patrick Donovan, is also its villain. Sexy, handsome, hunky, smart, to-die-for Donovan … beats his wife. That’s right. The hero abuses the heroine. But, men who abuse women are no heroes, and are, in the eyes of many, unredeemable and unforgivable. The first time Donovan raises his hand to Kate, emotionally, I was out of there. I did not want to read further. I did not want to read about domestic violence, certainly not perpetrated by our hero.
While the characters are complex, the plot is fairly straightforward. Kate and Donovan were very young when they married, and were still very young when they divorced. Kate walked out on Donovan after one too many encounters with his angry fists. Ten years later (which is where the story begins), a quirk in Kate’s father’s will brings the couple together again. Sam Corsi, who demolished buildings for a living, states in his will that, if certain inheritances are to take place, Kate and Donovan must live under the same roof for one year. Since Kate told no one about Donovan’s abuses, Sam was unaware of the reason his daughter and the son-in-law he adored split up, and hoped his ploy would work to bring them back together.
Well, Kate and Donovan decide they can indeed live together for the year stipulated without caving into their physical desires, so they take up residence in the house they lived in when they were married. Even though Donovan has done much renovation, ghosts of the past still linger, as Kate tries to figure out whether she can forgive Donovan after the way he treated her.
Whether or not you like this book will depend a lot on your view of domestic violence and the ability of the abused to forgive her abuser. The author was wise in putting the violence in the past by ten years, when the couple was very young. Had she put Donovan’s abuses in real time, to me he would have beyond redemption, thereby effectively removing the hero from the book altogether. There are times when it’s a little too obvious that MJP did her research, because there are conversations when it sounds as though Kate and Donovan are two therapists talking to each other. The language was not natural and seemed included only to inform the reader of the various sides of domestic violence.
Other incidental problems I had were that Donovan doesn’t talk like a real guy. His language is somewhat stilted, which may be a result of this being the author’s first contemporary after so many historicals. I felt the relationship between Julia and Charles was rushed, and I hurt for Val and Alec, the two nice people left behind due to Donovan and Kate’s reconciliation. Tom, Kate’s brother, is a nice guy, but as soon as we find out where he lives, we know what really drove him out of the family, so I felt this was somewhat cliched.
All in all, I felt that domestic violence may have been too big a chunk to bite off for a romance and I’m not sure what the author’s purpose was in choosing it. Too many women are already aware of the pain and sorrow associated with spousal abuse, so informing the reader was probably not the issue. There are simply too many women readers who will not forgive Donovan, no matter how much therapy he’s had, nor how much he grovels. His unremitting remarks about how everything was his fault became his only topic of conversation and after a while, it lost its impact. Kate’s willingness to forgive Donovan after only a few weeks in his presence, and her eagerness to participate in a physical relationship with him seemed rushed. Once trust is broken, it can take years, decades, to rebuild … not just a few weeks.
Donovan’s abuse was ten years past, and was fairly minor compared to how violent he could have been. That’s the only reason his redemption worked at all. So many men who are abusers need medication to help cope with their violent episodes, but Donovan does not. Were I Kate, I might forgive, but I would not forget. I’d be watchful and wary forever, and that’s one of the big reasons The Burning Point didn’t work for me. Physical abuse is such a monumental betrayal, I was not convinced Kate had really come to grips with her acceptance of Donovan’s redemption.
At the end of the story, I felt Donovan was still obsessed with Kate, that his anger hung by a thread, and that only his extraordinary will kept him from going postal. I wouldn’t want to live with a man that close the edge all the time.
Without question, I still admire Mary Jo Putney; I will still buy her books; I will still encourage you to read her backlog. All I’m saying is, The Burning Point was one of very few books of hers that didn’t work for me, and I cannot recommend it for all readers. And nobody feels worse about that that I do.
P.S. There are many reasons The Burning Point didn’t work for me, not the least of which are my own personal experiences with abuse. I watched and was victimized by domestic violence in all its wretched glory for the first eighteen years of my life, and then some. Fists, bruises, demeaning language, black eyes, torn hair, raw wrists, bleeding, kicking, slapping, hiding in terror, constant fear, pain, sorrow, remorse, regret … and then the cycle begins again.
No matter how smart, sexy, handsome, tender, and remorseful a man is, a batterer is no hero. Not to me. And probably not to many women who will read this book. If they haven’t been abused, I’ll wager they have a mom, sister, aunt, friend, or neighbor who has been. Women’s shelters are filled to over-flowing and the problem continues to escalate.
Because of my first-hand experiences, Donovan’s redemption and Kate’s quick forgiveness once they moved in together did not ring true. One might argue that it was the healing power of love at work, except that it wasn’t. Kate was not a part of Donovan’s recovery; she had left him, and rightfully so.