Review: Stranger in the Night by Charlotte Lamb

30 Mar

Stranger In The NightI was looking through the boxes of books that I hadn’t seen in years—I’m like Claudia Kishi from the Babysitter’s Club, only it’s books instead of junk food stashed in all sorts of hiding places—and came across a glutton’s trove of vintage Harlequin Presents. To a book junkie, this is like stumbling across a giant mound of cocaine and a naked Brandon Routh sprawled over a bear rug offering his washboard abs from which you could snort it with a diamond-encrusted platinum straw. Unless the book was dirty. And not just dusty. This particular book had spaghetti sauce stains on some of the pages—I may have bought this batch from the yard sale of a harangued mother with five children or Goodwill, I don’t know—and the name Elisa Harper scribbled on the back of the front page under This Book Belongs To. This book had a life before me! I hope whatever germs and other yucky things that have been living between the pages have died over the years from being in a box for so long. Damn it, that’s the problem with old books and library books. People don’t always wash their goddamned hands. And this one was published in 1980! Maybe Elisa Harper bought it from the swapmeet or AMVETS. Maybe it had four or five or six owners before me! I don’t really mind buying books from a used book store or a thrift shop, but I’ve never really thought about the other people who’ve touched the thing before I did. What if they were compulsive nose—nay, buttpickers? Gross.

OmgIhavetofindabottleofPurellrightnow. I feel so itchy now!

Enough of my neuroses, here’s the blurb.

She hadn’t even known his name…

As an inexperienced drama student, Clare had been shocked and disgusted by the sudden and rough lovemaking of Luke, an older, handsome stranger. She had turned away from love—for good.

Now, nine years later, Clare was a famous actress. She valued her friendship to Macey Janson, a leading playwright and producer, because Macey was willing to leave it at that—just friends.

But when chance suddenly thrust Luke back into Clare’s life, she faced a strange situation that was a threat to all her relationships.

Spoiler, it’s not lovemaking of any kind. It’s rape, that’s it, end of. *blood boiling* Clare is an 18-year-old Londoner struggling to be an actress. She is shy, wide-eyed, and innocent. She has a friend named Leonie who is a vivacious, voluptuous, blousy redhead. She is the type of friend who tells Clare she needs to grow up and get out more.

“We must bring you up to date,” she had said bluntly. “We’re in the nineteen-eighties now, remember. You’re not a schoolgirl anymore.”

She brings Clare to a party on New Year’s Eve where Clare meets a man named Luke

He was a tall, slim man with wide shoulders and an elegantly proportioned body under the dark evening suit he wore. She looked at it, recognising vaguely that it had an expensive cut and styling, which must mean that he wasn’t in anything like her own income bracket.

It was hard to tell in the muted light, but she suspected he was much closer to thirty than twenty, and his sophistication was genuine, unlike her own imitated variety.

Clare is absolutely awed by Luke. She dances with him and because of the whiskey she had consumed on an empty stomach, flirts outrageously with him. Clare gets dizzy and tells Luke she wishes they were in a quieter party and Luke tells her he has a quiet party in mind. Luke kisses her and touches her naughty parts. Clare enjoys his attention at first even though she dimly realizes that the man is allowing himself the liberties she had never given any man. And then it gets ugly.

She went into a frenzy of panic, struggling violently, hitting him with flailing hands which had no idea how to cope with his superior strength, clawing down his face as she fought to get away. She felt her nails raking his skin and he swore with a savagery that appalled her.

“You little bitch!”

Her scream split the apartment. His body violently invaded hers and his hand clamped down over her mouth as she went on crying out in wounded protest.

She went on struggling wildly to escape the pain he was inflicting on her, icy fear making her cold from head to foot, her brain now very clear and stricken with misery, but he ignored her muffled cries, the hands pushing at his broad, naked shoulders, the damp palms sliding on his skin.

This was the girl who thought she was in love with this man, struck by how handsome and sophisticated he was. The scene I quoted above is not “forced seduction,” it is rape. Unbroken by the experience, Clare decides to brush herself off and vows to herself that she will never be tricked by a man ever again. Years later, she becomes a famous stage and film actress and the only man she has ever allowed herself to get close to is a playwright named Macey Janson. Macey is in love with Clare, but Clare can no longer trust any man. Macey is seemingly uninterested in changing the status quo, but drops hints to Clare that he is unhappy she won’t love him back. He writes a play based on what he thinks may have happened to Clare in the past that could make her so cold and indifferent to men and wants Clare to play the lead female part. Though Clare is uncomfortable with the similarities of the play with her own personal tragedy, as an actress, she is willing to accept the challenge. It is while Luke and Clare are vacationing in the South of France that Clare meets up with Luke again and Luke appears to have every intention of finishing what he started with Clare seven years ago. Macey notices Clare’s very strong reaction to Luke and surmises that Clare and Luke must have a PAST. Clare is recalcitrant and won’t correct Macey’s assumption that she’s in love with Luke even as Luke becomes more insistent and threatening about claiming her. Clare finds herself trapped between two strong-willed men who won’t leave her alone and don’t know how to take no for an answer.

The Heroine

…a rather young eighteen, straight up from the country, her big green eyes still wide and innocent, her previous ideas of parties had faded tonight into dim insignificance

She had learnt to skip meals and exist on bread and baked beans [...] She had only eaten beans on toast again today and whisky was doing something strange to her metabolism

She was just a young, doe-eyed starving actress trying to make her life for herself in the big city.

Whatever the cost in emotional emptiness, she had determined never to let a man get too close to her again [...] Ever since that night, the very idea of a man touching her had made her shudder in sick rejection.

Clare had changed radically from that New Year party. The innocent wide-eyed girl had become a sophisticated woman of twenty-seven whose huge green eyes and sensuous body were plastered all over magazines and posters. Her hair had been styled in light, curling strands which blew around her head, making her look like a sexy boy until one saw the rounded body below her head.

And still she blames herself for the rape

[Luke] had treated her like a tramp and she had behaved like one. It didn’t help to remind herself that she had been very young and very innocent, that she wasn’t accustomed to drink and that she had been alone in a vast city which she found strange and disorientating.

“Why the hell didn’t you tell someone?”

“Rape?” she asked in a slow, tired voice. “How many people would believe me? I went with him of my own accord. And to do him justice, I suppose he thought I was willing, too. He thought he knew what I wanted. How was he to guess I was as thick as a plank?

No means no, girlfriend.

The Hero

She caught the blue flash of his eyes and heard him laugh under his breath. “No wonder our famous friend said you were a frigid little bitch,” [he] drawled.

“You think I’m not dying to give you what you want?” he asked harshly through white lips. “My God, you stupid little bitch, I didn’t close my eyes all night. How could I sleep, knowing you were in the next room and that I could have you if I went in to you?”

“No!” she cried out in tones of strangled terror, thrusting him away with both hands on his chest.

[...]

“I can’t,” she moaned, swinging away to scramble of the other side of the bed.

[His] hands hooked her back mercilessly. He was breathing hoarsely as he forced her down on to the bed and wrenched her head around, one hand thrust into her damp little curls to hold her still.

“You’re not tantalising me and getting away with it, you little bitch,” he grated thickly. “You started this— I’m going to finish it. My God, what do you think I am? I warned you not to play games with me, Clare.”

No, it isn’t Luke.

Clare stared at the strong, male profile with which she was so familiar but which she felt she was seeing for the first time. Macey’s intelligent forehead, heavy-lidded blue eyes, the powerful structure of cheek and jaw, the straight nose and firm mouth—she had seen them all a thousand times and never absorbed them with the intensity she did now.

“Don’t lie—I saw you. He’d been kissing you. What came next? If I hadn’t been so inopportune, would you be in bed by now?”

“No,” she groaned in sick disgust, her body trembling.

He flung her around, his fingers biting into her arm with cruel precision. “Don’t lie to me! I’ve known you for years, remember. I’ve never seen you react to any man the way you react to him.” He paused and asked on a low, driven note, “Are you in love with him?

Aww yeah, Clare, he’s the better catch, all right.

says: It was the 80′s, there were mounds of cocaine to be found on any flat surface, people were gargling with whiskey, and folks were just getting around to acknowledging that a woman wasn’t just three wet holes and two fleshy mounds on her torso that one might call funbags. In this novel, the heroine can barely say rape without second-guessing herself and thinking she deserved what happened. “She was asking for it,” “She was a tease,” “She was drunk,” yada-yada-yada. I couldn’t even buy the romance because the so-called hero kept calling her a “little bitch.” While Clare tells herself she will never be hurt by a man again and will never be so foolish again, the man she falls in love with manhandles her and calls her names. Yes, they start out as friends, but once he realizes Clare might share his feelings, it is then that he becomes suspicious and jealous, accusing Clare of playing games or sleeping with Luke even though it’s obvious that Clare is frightened of the man. Clare never truly heals from her ordeal and Macey doesn’t give her the chance to. Having to bury her own trauma so deep inside of herself that she becomes an entirely different person, then being forced to confront it seven years later and have those wounds torn open, Clare is basically a walking, talking psychological breakdown waiting to happen. Macey bullies her into the relationship at the end and Clare succumbs, having convinced herself that she MUST love him.

I haven’t even scratched the surface here. I realize these two are supposed to be on vacation in this story, but Clare and Macey do nothing but drink alcohol at night and drink copious amounts of coffee during the day. Coffee, Alcohol, Sunbathing, Coffee, Alcohol, Sunbathing. I wouldn’t be surprised if these two are actually alcoholics and suffering from both ulcer and liver damage. Yes, they’re celebrities, and uh-uh it was the 80′s, but seriously, that is all they do throughout the book, interspersed with scenes of Clare white-knuckled and knock-kneed, trying to escape both Luke AND Macey. Clare goes for a swim and sunbathes in the morning, she and Macey banter while drinking coffee/champagne, they go out to dinner, drink alcohol, they almost kiss, Macey becomes convinced that Clare is trying to tease him, Clare runs away to bed, and the whole thing starts over again the next day and repeats ad nauseam. Except for all the attempted rape and the grabbing and verbal abuse, it almost sounds like a nice vacation… in hell.

Sleep tight, kiddies. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.

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7 Responses to “Review: Stranger in the Night by Charlotte Lamb”

  1. Darragha March 31, 2010 at 4:33 am #

    I feel unusual and sullied.
    No means no.
    Period.

  2. Lorelie March 31, 2010 at 5:50 am #

    Ya know, I saw you tweet that you’d posted a review last night…I am SO glad I didn’t come looking for it right before bed. O.o

    Ugh. Just all around ugh.

  3. R-Tam March 31, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

    *shudder*

    I have to say, I always kind of felt sorry for the authors (if female) who write stories like these. They clearly think women, and by extension they themselves, don’t deserve any boundaries and that even “good” men can’t help but violate women. Makes me wonder what they accept as their due when it comes to their personal life :(

  4. bam March 31, 2010 at 2:42 pm #

    @R-tam

    It was an earlier time. Who knows, maybe some of them thought, “Ok, she totally asked for it. She got drunk and went off with a stranger.”

  5. The Queen B March 31, 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    You know, they totally need to make condoms for books. Seriously, if they can make Hello Kitty condoms for men, they can make a condom for a book.
    As for the story, don’t you love the 80′s? Honestly, I don’t think they even had come up with no means no yet. However, she shouldn’t need a snappy saying to realize that neither one of these dudes is a catch. Blah. You need some mental bleach. I’ll have to tweet you something naughty ;)

  6. Lyvvie April 8, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

    I’m with you on the library books being covered in sneeze and crumbs. It’s humiliating to turn the page and see a spot of someone else’s (hell, something’s) blood.

    I’m so happy romances aren’t so accepting of rape these days. I read things like that I want to renew my Ms. magazine subscription.

  7. Azoka May 19, 2010 at 11:51 am #

    i once read an interview where an older harlequin writer said that the heroes from the 70s and 80s had to be capable of rape which just nauseated me if this is the type of romance people read its not surprising that women stay in sexually abusive relationships yuk yuk yuk