Annie seems to have it all--a stable and devoted husband, two healthy sons, a beautifully restored Victorian home. She seldom regrets having sacrificed a budding career and a colorful beatnik lover to assume her present role as housewife and mother. Steve is a highly focused businessman who has done his best to avoid domestic entanglements. Divorced from his fashion-model wife because he refused to have children, he now consoles himself with fast cars, fast women, and expensive scotch. These two strangers are literally thrown together when a terrorist’s bomb destroys a London shop, burying them in the rubble. As rescue crews work desperately to free them, Annie and Steve hold hands in the dark and tell each other their life stories, confessing their secret doubts and disappointments. Anne vows to live life to the fullest if she is given a second chance, to put herself before her family, to embrace excitement and change. Steve, on the other hand, recognizes for the first time the importance of family ties. Each comes to represent for the other “the road not taken.” Steve’s freedom excites Annie; Annie’s commitment impresses Steve. A powerful bond is forged between them, and when they are finally rescued, they realize that they have fallen deeply in love. Everyone else suddenly seems to be a stranger.

Rosie Thomas, author of the critically acclaimed best-seller THE WHITE DOVE, dutifully follows this all-too-familiar plot to its predictable conclusion. Though STRANGERS has far fewer characters than THE WHITE DOVE, they seem on the whole less fully developed. The entire male cast, for example, is made up of the sort of cardboard cutouts one expects to find only in cheap romance novels--a serious flaw considering that the book attempts to portray a male-dominated society and therefore is full of male characters. One does learn more about Annie, but nothing can persuade the reader that she is actually from Planet Earth.

STRANGERS is best approached strictly as pulp fiction. The object of the game is to fulfill various formulaic conventions, to meet a certain set of requirements. Psychology and motivation are irrelevant concerns: Annie falls in love with Steve simply because she is a character in a love story. Romance addicts may be glad to hear that Thomas touches all the bases, but readers who appreciate such qualities as originality, irony, and humor in literature will be sorely disappointed.