Saturday, May 26, 2012

Book Report: Men in Kilts by Katie MacAlister

Like all genre fiction, romance novels are written according to a formula. Having read a lot of Nora Roberts over the years, I'm accustomed to the boy meets girl, boy causes conflict for girl, boy proposes to girl format. I've also read a few historical romances in which it's common for the heroine to be kidnapped by a rake who later reveals a sensitive side or to be forced into a marriage of convenience with a rough-hewn but secretly kind-hearted rancher. That having been said, when I started reading unknown-to-me Katie MacAllister's Men in Kilts, I wasn't sure which prefab plot to expect. As I soon found, it wasn't one that was in my repertoire.

Seattle-based mystery novelist Kathie Williams is looking for more than contacts and canapés when she attends a mystery writer's conference in her dream country of Scotland. Which I found to be kind of refreshing. After all, why not admit that you wouldn't mind some romance instead of being all uppity and self-composed like a Nora Roberts ice princess? After awaking from a snooze in the lobby (public naps are one of her signature idiosyncrasies), Kathie spies and chats up, in her words, a "dishy Scot." His name is Iain, and his two grown sons gave him a gift certificate to the conference as a birthday present. So, he has brains as well as brawny beauty. Smitten by such a package, Kathie tumbles into bed with Iain against her better judgment. But this is no one-night stand. The Scot seems just as hopelessly besotted as she is, inviting her to stay at his sheep farm in the Highlands. With no day job holding her back (she's a novelist, after all), Kathie sets off on the adventure, much to the horror of her mother and best friend back home.

Iain's farm proves to be a mix of the fairy tale and the rustic. His book-lined shelves (which house the hilariously named You and Your Ewe) and fuzzy flock send Katie even deeper into her lovesick orbit. That's why it's so maddening when Iain's beautiful and bitchy neighbor Bridget barges in and plants a kiss on his mouth. Iain insists that the brazen buttinsky is just a friend with no designs on him, and his explanations are believable, colored by characteristically masculine naiveté. It's isn't long before Kathie shatters all pretenses of indifference, uttering the L-word and embarking upon a campaign for marriage. Iain remains intractable if unperturbed, living up to his strong, silent stereotype and serving as the perfect foil for Kathie's feminine flutterings.

Ground-breaking stuff it isn't. Heck, there were times when I felt downright embarrassed for Kathie, silently willing her to summon some pride. Yet I also found her to be oddly inspiring because she isn't afraid to follow her heart, regardless of how foolish it may make her seem. And in the end, she isn't wrong. Iain returns her love in the form of a proposal. Which, when you think about it, is much more realistic than some perfect man who produces a diamond entirely unprovoked. Men in Kilts also keeps things real by having its lovers squabble over normal stuff like household chores and family members and what to do on vacation. Finally, its last pages aren't marked by the engagement or even the wedding itself. Instead we watch Kathie and Iain's life march on in all its mundanity long after the last fistful of rice has been tossed - an approach this is admittedly risky. As a kid, I always thought that the last part of any romantic fairy tale came just before the happily ever after. Even the happiest of endings, after all, signals a kind of complacency, a boring and decidedly unromantic every day in which no one could be interested. For me, the very omission of such a future is tantamount to a confession of mediocrity. Yet, by tackling the less glamorous details of domestic life, Men in Kilts manages to turn this notion on its head and to reaffirm romance, even amidst the gruesome chore of sheep slaughtering.

Apparently, nothing seals love like fresh air and a little manual labor.

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