Bad Heart 

Title: A Heart Speaks: A Promise to Cherish
Author: LaVyrle Spencer
Publisher: Jove Books, New York
Date: 1986
Discovered: Donated by Jen Chen
The cover promises: Women are like flowers, ready to spread and bloom around a rigid pistil.
Representative quote: “It seemed as if the beguiling fountains of Kansas City itself danced within Lee’s heart as she waited for the one thing she needed to make this day end in total perfection.” (page 261)

More bad news, Kansas City singles: You live in America's worst dating city! So alleges a recent list from the Web site Sperling's Best Places, in partnership with Axe Body Spray, a product created by people who know a lot about bad dates. Fortunately, there is one place where this cold-shower town stands as a lover's paradise: between the pages of romance author LaVyrle Spencer's 1983 novel, A Promise to Cherish (married in this volume to her earlier work Forsaking All Others).

For Spencer, love courses through the 816 area code as powerfully as sewage through Brush Creek. Her lovers, Lee (the woman) and Sam ("Honorable or a scoundrel?"), wring from the metro a lifetime of romance. "They took the city by storm, skittering across it like crazy bedbugs," Spencer writes. In the course of a single day, they:

"Rented roller skates and wheeled through Loose Park."

"Bought a rhinestone ring at the Country Club Plaza and put it on the finger of a fountain nymph in the Crown Center, declaring a bond forever between the two magnificent landmarks whose creators, Lee learned, had both had the initials J.C."

"Ate ice cream at Swenson's and drank piña coladas at Kelly's Saloon, then nearly lost both on the Zambezi Zinger at Worlds of Fun, and settled their stomachs by lying flat on their backs between rows of markers at Mount Washington Cemetery."

"Spit into the 'Mighty Mo' off the middle of the Hannibal Bridge, with laughing apologies to Octave Chanute, who hadn't taken two and a half years creating it just to have two zanies use it for this!"

"Slipped into the Truman Library and left a note commemorating the date in the Encyclopedia Britannica — in volume 7, page 754 —promising to come back a year from then and see if it was still there."

Take that, Axe Body Spray! Did your statisticians take into account that we have reference books to deface? Your Crap Archivist contacted the Truman Library to see if anyone there had ever come across any love-struck encyclopedia graffiti. A real archivist replied, "Such acts would be, understandably, regrettable to us." He added, "Because of the security in place in the research room of the Truman Library, it seems that a public library would have been a more likely setting for the actions you describe in A Promise to Cherish."

Lee's Summit & Lee's Climax

When I was a kid, my parents once gave me a personalized storybook, one that shoehorned my name, pet and favorite food (pizza!) into a standard-issue narrative. A Promise to Cherish performs the same trick for an entire city.

Spencer introduces us to lonely, middle-aged Lee, who engages in solemn, overwritten shower masturbation soon after meeting Sam. Sam is a Kansas City developer who resides on "exclusive Ward Parkway," keeps porn in his briefcase and, to generate some narrative tension, might be dishonest. Development is something of a theme here, if Spencer can be said to deal with themes. There's talk of building out on Highway 291 and a shopping mall going up in Overland Park.

As Lee and Sam bedbug-skitter across town, Lee learns to drop her guard. The result is an uneasy mix of lifestyle porn, Chamber of Commerce info-dumps and love story. The tale of two damaged people learning to love each other is choked with so many visits to the Carriage Club, the American Restaurant, "plush Arrowhead Stadium" and "the Starlight Theatre" that you begin to suspect Spencer was just writing off a KC vacation.

Here she describes Crown Center:

"Had Hans Christian Andersen been alive to dream up a fairy-tale setting, he could not have invented any more compellingly romantic than that through which they passed."

Kaleidoscope always got me hot, too.


Oh, the godawful sex writing: "Another drugging kiss stretched into an abandoned celebration of discovery while hands, mouths and hips paid homage."

And: "His warm palms moved between their bodies, finding her freed breasts and caressing them slowly before rolling their tips between his fingers as if they were flowers he plucked on their stroll through the meadow."

Even sexier, that meadow was in the building site off 291! Sam is building a development and a relationship! You have to wonder if, in their happily ever after, Lee and Sam continued to reflect Sam's work. Did these two damaged souls settle into unsightly sprawl?

Or maybe, like their beloved Zambezi Zinger, they grew old and broken down and got shipped off to South America.

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