THERE IS A new breed of romantic fiction budding here -- fairy tales for female M.B.A.'s. Both Futures and Fast Forward are set in the present, but in each, the heroine might just as well be wearing a hoop skirt. Each is a career woman who is rescued from the plight of being Supermom, one permanently, the other temporarily, by a gallant knight.The twist is that they are liberated knights. In Futures the knight rescues the damsel in distress when she's in labor. In Fast Forward the guy is a terrific cook and housekeeper. Both books ought to carry the "right to life" lobby's seal of approval, since one protagonist actually runs away from a legal abortion at the last minutes and the other regrets going through with hers.
Futures is better plotted, more slickly written and therefore more dangerous as ammunition for anti-feminists. Be forwarned: Freda Bright's previous novel was titled Options. One can imagine a whole line of paperbacks a la Danielle Steel with names like Puts, Calls and, of course, Bonds.
Our gal Caro (no, not the syrup; it's short for Caroline) in Futures is the daughter of Augusta "Gusty" Harmsworth. You could say Gusty was one tough mother. She is a photojournalist who was so busy gallivanting around the world making documentaries that she neglected the upbringing of her lonely daughter. Nevertheless, Caro grows up outwardly up-to-date and reasonably well-adjusted. She suffers humiliating discrimination while breezing through Harvard's business school, lands a swell job on Wall Street, begins leading a glamorous social life with Tom, an ecology magazine editor. Got all those role-reversals memorized?
Okay. The trouble starts not when they get married (at Tom's insistence), but when Caro, having fled an abortion clinic, produces a daughter and discovers she loves motherhood far more than her career. No one is more surprised at the torrent of maternal feelings than Caro herself, who simply cannot concentrate on million-dollar real estate deals when she knows her poor infant has not been diapered properly by her witch of a nanny. And poor Tom!He loses his magazine and finds he lacks a paternal instinct, all at the same time. To cap these reverses, Gusty returns from the Amazon with a new husband (and stepfather for Caro) in tow -- a mooching golddigger half her age.
My dears, it's enough to make a strong woman weep. And Caro does.Then she and Tom break up. Then she quits her job. Then she starts a second life as a live-in paid housekeeper. Then she is wooed and won by her former boss, who got to like her as a financial whiz but loves her more as a wife/hostess.Need I add that he is literally a Southern Gentleman?
Now, Wharton grads, on to the next bedtime story. In Fast Forward our gal Diana is a television station manager for the Washington outlet of a major network. She moved there with her daughter from New York, leaving an unhappy marriage behind. In her new post she is successful, she owns a nice house, and she has a lover/lawyer who does not fool around. Diana, however, is still unfulfilled. The lawyer spends most of his workaholic time in Phoenix on a big case, while Diana broods about her 19-hour days and the trouble keeping a good household help.
Help does arrive in the form of Peter, a hip psychologist, who shops, cooks, walks the dog, wins over Diana's daughter and does almost everything else except windows. Diana spends most of the book accepting the Sensitive Shrink's homemaking and lovemaking, despite her guilt about David, who is slaving away in Scottsdale. I won't give away the emotional ending but I will reveal that Diana ends up rejecting another job promotion, apparently unlike Ann Berk. (According to a press release accompanying the book, Berk recently returned to New York as an NBC vice-president.She had been station manager at WRC-TV in Washington.)
Because Berk seems sincere, I wish I could sympathize more with her heroine. Yet I found it hard to believe that a competent executive such as Diana could be such a complete ninny at home, either unable or unwilling to creatively design a solution for her problems. Also, her liberated knight is even more ludicrous than the Southern Gentleman. So he whips up a gourmet meal every night; must he be handsome, blond, a jogger and a tennis player too? Berk's best character is the daughter, a savvy, vulnerable adolescent with the wry manner of a Judy Blume kid.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all in favor of conflicted heroines in novels about dealing with success and motherhood. These two, however, seem to be ready to kick over all their hard-earned rights the minute their load gets too heavy. They kvetch too much. And both, having had to fight men to get to where they've gotten, still bend over to kiss the oppressor's foot. Just because the authors have not found the balance between family and work does not mean it doesn't exist. With a nod in Bill Safire's direction, I'd call Bright and Berk nurturing nabobs of negativism.