By Kate Clayborn
I’ve read Kate Clayborn before and enjoyed her writing. Unfortunately, this one was marred by a heroine I didn’t care for. It wasn’t a case of a character arc situation where the protagonist starts off weak, victimized, flaky, selfish, man-crazy, or whatever and grows and learns in the course of the plot, eventually gets her head on straight, and demonstrates how she has changed. This one stayed in her lane until the very end. I became more and more frustrated and hostile toward her as the book went on.
Because of her dysfunctional upbringing, our heroine, Kit, a scientific genius in the field of metallurgy is bound and determined to remain a lab research assistant so she can stay in her community and her new home and not be separated from her two best friends. She craves stability. If she fulfilled her potential, including just taking credit for her work, it would disrupt her life. Ok. You know what? I can relate to and even respect someone who prioritizes home, community, and personal life over career and money. But here’s the thing. Except for her two best friends, who have lives of their own, she doesn’t really have a family or a personal life. She has no hobbies, causes, or interests other than her work and fixing up her old house which winning the lottery allowed her to buy. The premise of this little series: 3 friends who win the lottery and how it changed their lives sounded intriguing and fraught with possibilities. But despite this novel’s marketing, winning the lottery doesn’t change Kit or her life at all. It just gives her something to do and a bonafide neighborhood to live in. She would still have the same “maintain the status quo at all costs” attitude she has now, but would be living in an apartment with nothing to do after work. I am re-reading a book now, A Spring Affair by Milly Johnson, in which a downtrodden woman sorely in need of a new lease on life transforms her circumstances by moving all the detritus of years out of her house. As she “cleans house”, she gets out from under the thumb of her husband, re-establishes a relationship with an old friend, starts a business, loses weight, and falls in love with the bin-man. And a lot of other things as well. It is a slow but very sure progression throughout the novel. It provided a real contrast and insight into why this plot didn’t do it for me. Anyway, back to Kit. As far as family, she has a beloved globe-trotting photojournalist brother who brought her up and loves her, but whom she rarely sees. And that is because she has all but alienated him by her constant nagging to accept part of her lottery winnings as a gift. As soon as he comes home for a visit, she starts in on him again, forcing him to be harsh with her to get her to stop. He cuts his visit short leaving her bereft but none the wiser.
Kit’s genius and accomplishments have come to the notice of a huge corporate research laboratory. Ben, our hero, has been sent to recruit Kit to Houston Texas with promises of a big salary, top-of-the-line equipment, fabulous working conditions, fame, fulfillment, and prestige in her field. Of course, it’s a big “NO” from Kit. She is happy where she is. She doesn’t want the pressure or hassle, would have to move, and is afraid that her work will be used to do bad things like making weapons. (That I can respect, but she doesn’t even entertain the possibility that her talents could also contribute to the good of mankind as well.) Anyway, while attempting to woo her to his company, Ben and Kit fall in love. Also, it doesn’t hurt that Ben’s father, whom he is temporarily caring for, owns a salvage yard in her home town which has lots of cool stuff for Kit’s House.
It doesn’t take long for Ben to realize that Kit is deadly serious about not moving, and he quits trying to make her. The love story precedes predictably until the big misunderstanding that drives them apart. Kit’s nice boss who Kit loves and esteems is offered his sorely needed funding by the corporation Ben works for if Kit comes to work for them. She immediately jumps to the conclusion that Ben used her private confidences to blackmail her into changing her mind. Of course, he is not capable of any such thing. Kit ignores what a good person Ben has proven himself to be, believes the worse, and doesn’t give him any chance to defend himself or deny her accusation. She just coldly freezes him out.
When her derelict addict father has a stroke in another state, he drops everything to jump on a plane to be by her side in the hospital. Nope. She is not having it. She will not even listen to him. To her shock and dismay (!), she learns her father has gotten sober, stopped gambling, got a job, and is in a relationship with a nice lady, Candace, whom he met at an AA meeting. He has been saving all of the money that Kit has been sending him to supposedly keep body and soul together in order to pay it back on the one-year anniversary of his sobriety. Her reaction? She is angry and resentful. “Given that Alex and I both have been sending checks, it would’ve been nice to know that Dad himself could have supplemented…Maybe this should make me feel warm and fuzzy inside…But it makes me mad…to hear he has been going along, getting better at his life, making some grand gesture…when all we’d really want was a bit more kindness.” She looks at his sweet intention as self-indulgent. I just didn’t get the reaction and was even more fed up with her. Plus she was snippy with Candace, who, though she lived in a trailer park (horrors!), was a peach.
In the end, Kit gets tired of waiting for heartbroken Ben to come back to try to change her mind, realizes he is not, and finally takes action. No big epiphany, no growth, no lessons learned, she just got tired of waiting for him to beg her for another chance (to not do anything wrong.) In the epilogue, we find out that she has finally decided not to waste her talents career-wise and flies up and down the east coast consulting and training. Why? Search me.
So it’s another case where protagonists make themselves miserable and almost ruin their lives for no good reason until they choose otherwise for no good reason. I am weary of that but I can put up with it if the protagonists have enough redeeming qualities or a good heart underneath all the flaws. Kit is not a bad person. She had a tough childhood. But she’s not a great person either. So this was a fail for me.
September 3, 2022