034 – A Repeating Life by C.L. Parks

A Repeating Life cover Juliana Benson thought she’d finally get a little excitement in her life when her incredibly good-looking boss, Michael Mason, offers her a job as his personal assistant. She had no idea she’d be depending on him for her life; and finding the soul mate she lost in 1846.
Er, I’m going to admit, even the core premise here doesn’t really appeal to me. I’ve mentioned before I’m not much for lovey-dover ~soulmate~ reincarnation stories, and the chick-lit fantasy-fulfilling boning-your-boss trope doesn’t really appeal to me either. But reviews at Amazon made mention of shapeshifting and skinwalkers, and that’s what really piqued my interest in this book. Unfortunately, those elements were so limited as to be almost non-existent, so that didn’t really work for me either. However, even if I were into reincarnation and boss-boning, and the shapeshifting had been more prominent, for the content and execution, I still don’t think I’d be able to recommend this book.

I had several issues with A Repeating Life, some of which have to do with my own personal preferences, and others that are probably more universal. As seems to be a problem with a lot of self-published works, A Repeating Life has grammar, spelling, and punctuation issues. ‘You’re’ instead of ‘your’s, periods where commas should be, even backwards quotation marks. I figure that’s probably par for the course, and honestly it doesn’t bother me much in this kind of publication, but I figured it warranted mentioning, since that’s a pet peeve for some people.

No, my issues here have more to do with the story, structure, and characters, because A Repeating Life is actually the tale of a chronically helpless woman who is held captive against her will (for her own good) by her ~sexy boss~/~soulmate~, whom she – naturally – eventually falls in love with.

The book opens with a three-page sequence in which our heroine, Ana, is attacked and choked into unconsciousness in a parking lot by her abusive ex-husband. It’s the proverbial wrong foot to start with, being an awkwardly-written, structurally unnecessary re-enactment of a very familiar, disturbing trope, and…is actually a pretty accurate representation of the book and its pervading flaws.

  1. It’s awkwardly-written

  2. This particular flaw was most prominent in the first chapter, where the most varied instances of dialog and character interaction take place. I really haven’t phrased it right, though – it’s not that the writing is awkward, exactly, it’s just…difficult to buy. The exchanges between Ana and her best friend Amelia, the conversation between Ana and her stuffy manager, even the threats her husband spouts as he attacks her – they don’t ring true. They’re too familiar – the characters say pretty much what you’d expect them to say, and in fact have seen similar characters say in other mediums. But they say it without any distinguishing turn of phrase, tick, or variation, really, to make it their own. They speak in cliches.

    In short, you get the feeling that the author doesn’t have any real idea of who these characters are, or how they work outside their respective tropes – the semi-slutty, outspoken best friend, the possessive, violent ex, etc. Because of that, they don’t feel even remotely real; they’re the literary equivalent of cardboard cutouts voiced by a few not particularly talented parrots.

    To be fair, it’s not as bad as the book progresses, probably because there are fewer characters and the author seems to have a better sense of how the ones that are around interact. But still, when it does pop up – like in Ana’s mid-book conversation with her mother – it’s just one more thing that takes you out of the story.

  3. It’s structurally unnecessary

  4. I think the opening scene is intended to be a prologue of some sort, because after Ana passes out from the attack in the parking lot, we begin chapter one. It opens a couple of hours prior to the attack (although you don’t initially know this), and after a couple of those cliche-ridden expository exchanges I mentioned earlier, Ana is called in to her boss’s office to receive the summary’s promised promotion and kick off the plot. The trouble is that following this short exploration of Ana’s work life (which lasts all of ten pages), we encounter the exact same scene we just finished reading in the prologue. It’s the prologue repeated, word-for-word – cut-and-pasted, probably – and they even close out the chapter with the same descent into unconsciousness.

    You can see the trouble here – the introductory scene adds absolutely nothing, and any effectiveness it might have had as a cold open is instantly diminished when you’re forced to read the same three-page sequence again not ten pages after you read it the first time. It’s a mildly annoying issue on its own, but the trouble is that the entire book has structural problems like this.

    For example, the first six chapters (70 pages) set up this conflict between Ana, her boss/self-appointed protector Michael, and Ana’s abusive ex-husband John, who is stalking and apparently dead-set on killing her. But within that sixth chapter, this conflict is completely resolved – Michael kills John after he brutally attacks Ana, and that’s that. The threat is no longer present.

    The trouble is that the book goes on another hundred and eighty pages without introducing any other outside conflict. The only thing that keeps the book from ending with chapter six is the fact that, oh yeah, Michael and his partner Jeffery are holding Ana captive until she believes that she is his reincarnated lover.

    Now this would actually be an effective enough conflict to keep the story rolling…iiiiiif we didn’t already know exactly how it would turn out. Short as the summary is, it establishes the character’s roles well, and even if you hadn’t read that, the twenty-million-odd “dreams” Ana has in her spare time prominently featuring her former life with Michael and Jeffery would get the point into your head with all the subtlety of a shotgun.

    I found myself thinking more than once “If I didn’t know that this was a romance novel and that Michael is the ‘hero’, this might actually be kind of interesting.” I mean, you’ve got two guys holding a woman against her will, one professing that, despite seriously limited interaction, he is in love with her, that he “knows” her, and that he’s been stalking her since birth. He even eventually reveals that he purchased the company she works for in order to become her boss and get closer to her. Even Ana finds this creepy – initially – and has the sense to be panicked when they won’t let her go. This really could work as a Crazy Stalker story. But no, instead, we know from the start that she is in fact his dead wife, and that by the laws of romance novels, they will get a now-incredibly-creepy happily ever after. So all that’s left is a hundred and eighty pages of waiting for the inevitable.

    Obvious disturbing circumstances aside, that kind of waiting game is hard to pull of in the best of situations. Here, you’re stuck with two characters, bland and unremarkable in anything except their respective faults. Ana is almost totally without personality – by the end of the book, I knew literally nothing about her, as a person, except that she was a victim of domestic abuse and she is the quintessential damsel in distress. We’re told she’s good at her job, but we never see it because the book takes place almost entirely on Michael’s estate. We’re told that in her former life she was a strong, stubborn woman, but we never really see any hint of that in this life. Her only talents seem to be injuring herself in increasingly ridiculous ways and passing out.

    Michael is the standard inhumanly sexy beast – literally – and he too has little personality to speak of except that he’s an occasionally weepy dick. Supposedly he’s been stalking Ana her entire life, yet, rather than casually introducing himself at any point and getting to know her like a normal person, he purchases the company she applies at, makes sure she’s hired, makes himself her boss, and then doesn’t acknowledge her for an entire year, until he makes her his personal assistant. Then he “rescues” her from the attack in the parking garage and whisks her away without her consent to his personal residence, where he refuses to let her leave “for her own safety,” even after he’s dispatched of her husband. And his reaction when finally asks him to leave and insists that he’s holding her against her will?

    “You were more than willing in the pool” – referring to several days earlier, prior to the death of her ex, when she kissed him in his swimming pool – which she quickly put a stop to. What a catch. He certainly doesn’t seem to have any boundary issues.

    To make it worse, the waiting game that could be easily resolved in, say, a matter of pages, is stretched out by the same repeating pattern of events. If it didn’t annoy you the first time around, don’t worry – you’ll get there by say, the fourth of fifth.

    It goes like this: Ana gets creeped out and demands to know the truth about some aspect of the plot that the men have been keeping from her. The boys get cagey but eventually agree to share. One of both of them reveals some truth that both the audience and Ana have had numerous blatant hints about, and then one of two things happens. Either a) Ana gets so shocked or upset by the obvious revelation that she gets up and runs out of the room/house/pool, eventually injuring herself in some ridiculously way so seriously that she passes out, flashbacks to her former life, and wakes up to find her injuries have been/are being tended to by one or both of the men. Or b) one or both of the men puts a kibosh to the expository conversation because it would end the book be “too much” for Ana to handle, and sends her off to wash/swim/waste time until breakfast/lunch/dinner where the conversation is resumed, and then Ana follows course A. Wash, rinse, repeat, with little variation.

    It’s an incredibly frustrating way to structure a novel. By the time the legitimate threat has passed, all we’re left with is this creepy, Stockholm-ish romance between two bland-to-unlikable characters, which is drawn out and repetitive enough to test a saint’s patience.

  5. It’s a re-enactment of a familiar, disturbing trope

  6. I mentioned that some of my complaints would be a matter of personal preference, and this is probably one of them. I hate, hate, hate the damsel-in-distress character type, I hate the creepy stalker/presumptuous boyfriend type, I don’t care for the reincarnated lovers angle, and those tropes are A Repeating Life.

    And yes, it should go without saying, but the fact that the heroine is essentially held captive against her will for the entire book is incredibly disturbing to me. For the first six chapters, while still frustrating, there’s at least a “reason” Michael, Jeffery, and even Amelia refuse to let Ana out of the house. They’re afraid that her husband will find her. Personally, I still don’t think that’s justification enough for restricting another human being’s freedom to go where and when they please – for Chrissakes, there’s such a thing as the police and protective custody – but at least there’s a pretense.

    Once Ana’s husband is dead and she demands to leave, they not only refuse to release her, but forcibly bring her back when she tries to escape. Even when she is injured – by her husband, by her own incompetence, etc – they refuse to take her to a hospital. At one point Ana has to endure a deep cut being sewn back together without anesthetic at the house because they won’t let her go.

    This is when it unapologetically becomes kidnapping and false imprisonment, and there’s no way, in my mind, that any form of “romance” between the two parties could be anything but incredibly disturbing and wrong.

    The trouble is, the messages here are mixed. I mean, like I mentioned earlier, even Ana is disturbed by the fact that Michael won’t let her go (which unfortunately is a step forward for these kinds of stories), but at the same time she’s attracted to him. Eventually, her attraction overcomes the fact that he’s HOLDING HER CAPTIVE.

    I just…I can’t get into that. Most other books have the heroines justifying or rationalizing or fuck, not noticing their lover’s creepy behavior, and shitty as that is, at least they have the excuse of not seeing it. But here…I just can’t fathom the romance in a story whose heroine acknowledges that its hero is committing a federal crime against her, and goes ahead with the love story anyway. I mean, there are absolutely no repercussions from for Michael’s actions. Ana just eventually remembers she’s his wife and it’s all well and good, everyone’s groovy and in love again. I just, it’s like, what?

    It’d be different if it were portrayed as obsession, or even addressed as wrong, but no, this is a love story. He just loved her so much that he couldn’t let her leave his side. But that’s not love. If this character really loved Ana, he’d not only never keep her against her will, he’d at least give her the option of living her life without him.

    And speaking of disturbing tropes, let’s not forget the flagrant use of rape and abuse as a plot device, not to mention the easily-forgotten death of the heroine’s supposed best friend. Obviously the rape is the biggest, most offensive issue. Just prior to her husband’s death, he attacks and violently, brutally rapes Ana. It’s during this act that Michael finally kills him, and naturally, Ana passes out from the trauma. She awakes and there is literally no evidence, psychological or physical, that she has ever been raped. Michael heals all her wounds, and the next day she is only as sore as she would be if she’d had “passionate sex”. Not a day later, she’s actually having that “passionate sex” with Michael, again, the man holding her captive.

    As much as we bashed the Mercy Thompson books, at least there was some acknowledgement of the trauma involved in surviving a rape. Here there is absolutely none to speak of, and it’s just…a mess.

There are other things I took issue with as well. The plot holes – why did Michael wait a year before even attempting to become close with Ana at work? Why was Ana’s name still Juliana, the same name she had in her past life? Why didn’t anyone just settle the whole “is-he-crazy-or-not” debate regarding Michael’s immortality/skinwalking abilities by just shapeshifting in front of her?

We never see Michael shapeshift. That whole thing is just an excuse for his immortality – it is never relevant in any other way (sure, he shifted to kill her husband, but don’t tell me he couldn’t have done that with a gun/his bare hands). What a waste!

What else? Oh, the boys constantly insist Ana is still “in danger” from something, even after her husband has been dispatched, and that’s why they can’t let her go, but what? And what was the significance of the young girl character from Ana’s previous life? She served absolutely no purpose and yet was still rather prominently featured.

Then there was the rather disconcerting description of a Native American character as a man “with red skin and black hair”. And that’s it. At the very least the descriptive skills there are a little weak; to me, it’s politically incorrect, literally incorrect, and bordering on racist.

I just…I hate to be such a bitch about a self-published work, I really do, but I just could not get in to any aspect of this book. It was not my thing alllll the way around, and I honestly cannot recommend it in its current state to anyone else.

one star

Probably isn’t worth much now, but we would still like to thank the author for being willing to give us a review copy.


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