It’s a particular curiosity that a genre of fiction as large and as encompassing as romance continues to grow, not with experimental or speculative creativity, but by continually recreating and repackaging and retreading the same product. Romance readers like their formulas and constructs and that’s fine. But, when the same story is told over and over again it should become more polished with each telling, more fine tuned every time it’s recited. What it can’t do is fail on the most elementary level. Fiction, for all its many elastic incarnations, must rigidly hold to certain fundamentals: stories must have beginnings, middles, and ends, setting and character must be established, conflict must build and action must rise, then fall. Fiction that doesn’t ascend to this most basic level—especially in a genre that takes so few risks—fails.
LuAnn McLane’s Wild Ride, a three novella anthology, is fiction that—unfortunately—fails more than it succeeds. The collection is threaded together by the Wild Ride Resort, an adults-only getaway and theme park where all the stories take place. Located on an island, the resort is touted as an exclusive vacation destination and an anything-goes night spot with a Carnival-like arcade dubbed Moonlight Madness. Anything might go, but nothing decadent happens.
The anthology begins with “Whiplash” wherein the resort’s owner and designer Oliver Maxwell and travel writer Andrea “Andi” Cooper come together and stay together in a romance that doesn’t even attempt to be anything but a foregone conclusion. There is a quickly raised contention over mixing business with pleasure and the power Andi wields with her pen, but these are just as quickly forgotten on this couple’s smooth road to forever.
In “Hold on Tight” Krista Ross, the resort’s entertainment director, and cowboy-turned-country-music-star Travis Mackey have each other at “hello” despite lip service to the: I-know-men/women-just-like-him/her-no-thanks, effect. Yet somehow, Krista and Travis are compelled by something about the other that they are each forced to respond to.
The collection concludes with “Worth the Wait” a story that seems to have begun in another of the author’s offerings. Cole Forrester and Jenna Wagner arrive on the island already in love with each other, but each thinking the other couldn’t possible return those feelings. But, as would happen, Cole and Jenna avoid the simple conversation that would bring them understanding of the situation and instead, immediately hop into bed together, then proceed to go to great lengths to misunderstand one another for the remainder of their story.
Wild Ride is romance without risk taking. There is never a point in the storytelling, when, at a fork in the proverbial road, the road less traveled is taken. There is the standard “let’s pretend we’re a couple” in abundance, all the while each couple makes hollow and unconvincing promises to keep their hands off each other. Those promises are then followed by too easy, tepid sex. The setups and contrivances are too familiar which makes for a been-there-done-that read.
Wild Ride is also storytelling that seriously neglects the fundamentals. The storylines and characters cling to the surface. While it’s clear that depth was never the intention, there is little for a reader to sink their teeth into. The heroes and heroines are essentially together from the moment they appear on the same page, only to separate for meaningless black moments. Romance readers understand that heroes and heroines are destined to live happily-ever-after but the joy in reading is being fooled into thinking that happy ending might not happen. If the ending is too obvious from page one, what’s the point in reading? In addition, the conflicts are as substantial as cotton candy, character growth—what there is of it—happens off the page, and the pace is hit and run.
There is a nearly overwhelming urge to dismiss the problems with this anthology by saying: perhaps with longer page counts these ideas would have matured rather than withered on the vine; there simply wasn’t time to flesh these stories/characters out in the time allotted. However, whether fiction is one page or one thousand pages the basic fundamentals apply. If short fiction can achieve brilliance in ten pages, a novella should at least be passable in one hundred pages.
Wild Ride breaks no new ground and never rises above cute.
You can visit LuAnn here and purchase this book here or here