Question: If a heroine was raised in the Ozarks by her kin, in a teeny tiny town perched on the side of a mountain, where no one came in from away, anQuestion: If a heroine was raised in the Ozarks by her kin, in a teeny tiny town perched on the side of a mountain, where no one came in from away, and no one left, folks jumped over a rock to celebrate a weddin', they say words like "caint" and are so intermarried they caint right remember what clan they started out from, and the clans decide that the widder Althea caint rightly keep her hunting dogs and her farm to herself so they hold a kangaroo court to decide who she should marry, if you are raised like that, in a time like that, in a community like that, would it even occur to you to say "I won't do it?"
That was my problem with this book. I kept asking myself that question. And the answer, I kept thinking, was "NOPE".
That inner snarky troll that I have has been sleeping quite comfortably for about the last 4 books that I have read. All good things must come to an eThat inner snarky troll that I have has been sleeping quite comfortably for about the last 4 books that I have read. All good things must come to an end, and the troll woke up with a vengeance this morning after I finished this ridiculous book.
Where to start, says the snarky troll. How about the cover? Without a doubt the worst I have ever seen. Creepy looking folks on the cover, looks like an art class drawing. Blech. Tonight or Never has nothing on this one, it's terrible.
Now for the story. Olivia (my daughter's name, and if she EVER becomes a doormat like this for a guy I'm going to slap her silly) has been in love with Spencer her entire life. He marries someone else, of course, the perfect Kirsten ("...for theirs had been a perfect union. They had soared like the eagles together, even from the first."). They have 2 perfect children and have a perfect life. Until all three of them die from diptheria and Spencer is left all alone.
For some reason Spencer's best friend (Olivia's brother) convinces him that he needs to remarry and that Olivia would be perfect for him. No one else has asked her, and she loves him and can help him out on the farm. What a perfect beginning. Man of your dreams settles for you, and you sign on for a life of drudgery, farm chores and shitty sex. On their wedding night, this prince of a man says to her, "Peter and Margaret are dead, remember? My children are dead and so is my wife." He decides that he could make sure he never lost another child because he would see to it that he never had another child. And he would never lose another woman he loved, because, quite simply, he would never love another woman. What this noble train of thought means is that he is going to be a complete dick to his long-suffering second wife every day, have sex with her for 3 years and never let either of them enjoy it (or finish it, for that matter), remind her at every turn that his family is dead and he'll never have another one, and for all intents and purposes act like a dog-in-the-manger, self-absorbed douchebag.
Now, about the long-suffering Olivia. I'm not sure whether she is one of those Mary Sue types or just a TSTL type but I had a hard time liking her very much either. Perhaps she is just too much like lots of us are in real life, no backbone involved when it comes to standing up for yourself, afraid that you will lose the person that you love. This jerk is actually no loss at all, but she doesn't realize that until near the end of the book. She does everything that she thinks he wants, but ends up annoying the shit out of him on a daily basis, until he yells things like "Can't you just leave me alone to regret marrying you in peace???" Apparently they didn't say things like "fuck you and the horse you rode in on, buddy" back then . Too bad, because that's what I was thinking as I read this. Nope, she just slinks away and cries.
And if it's not enough that he is a complete douchebag to his wife, he also gets to practice on 3 kids that come to stay with them. Olivia's sister has died and her brother-in-law (a con man, I think, and it's inferred that he has beaten and/or messed with his kids) brings their kids to live with them. A 12yr old girl (the one that was messed with), a 10yr old boy (desperately in need of a father, like we can't see where THAT'S leading) and a 3yr old baby girl (for Olivia, who so much wants a baby). He gets to see how much damage he can inflict on them - they have to sleep in his workshop and the barn. Not the sleeping loft he built for his own dead kids, that's off limits to everybody. And when the boy refers to himself as being a "Williamson" (Spencer's last name) he says magnanimously that they might as well borrow the name for the time being , as they're sleeping in his house, eating his food, using his stuff.
Then a whole bunch of convoluted stuff happens, like the railroad is coming to town and there's some question about who is going to sell whose farm, the general store owner's daughter tries to snag the surveyor for the railroad, Olivia gets drunk on cherry cordial chocolates (WTF?) there is some scheme afoot between the surveyor and the children's con man father, Olivia's sister-in-law (who loves sex but is so Catholic she thinks it's a sin if it isn't to make babies and the doctor told her she's too fat to have any more or she'll have a heart attack) goes to the big city to the doctor and Olivia goes too, to find out why she's barren. The doctor tells her (in the only funny part in the book), "oh, you must be just what your husband dreamed about when he was still taking care of his own business" and that there is nothing wrong with her. No pill, no cure, no operation. She is her own worst enemy. "Your husband knows what to do. Let him do it." And then her sister-in-law is properly scandalized and in tears because the doctor gave her French envelopes to use with her husband so she can still have fun with no more babies. She tells Olivia "it goes on his...that is, it catches the...so that a woman doesn't..." Then she tries again. "It's called that because a man puts...and it holds..." Livvie had no idea what she was talking about. "It catches his...and the Lord says that loving is for the making of babies, and with this there won't be any making of babies because...well, you know. You're a married woman, for goodness sake!"
God save me from these ninnies.
By midway through the book I honestly wasn't sure which main character I disliked more. Him, for being a complete douchebag, or her for allowing him to get away with it. (And for being ridiculously naive, that set my teeth on edge.)
So, as I kept turning pages, waiting for the book to get better, the inevitable big moment happens. Olivia falls off a ladder, bangs her head, and the doctor thinks she'll die. Skull fractures, you know. And then, wait for it, wait for it....the tender bedside epiphany happens. Faced with losing her, Spencer the douchebag realizes that he really does love her, after all! That he can't lose her, because then he'll lose the kids too! Blah, blah, blah. All sorts of tender mushiness ensues, especially when Olivia opens her eyes. Then, of course, Spencer is stuck trying to think of how to get out of the "get away from me and let me regret marrying you in peace" remark that he had made the night before . Conveniently for him, Olivia has no recollection of anything since the previous morning at breakfast. Whew! Crisis narrowly averted. Now he is free to love and boink, boink, boink his pretty wife. So they do, and for such an uptight prude and a jerk who usually can't be bothered to even kiss her first they have a pretty exciting time. Until....she goes to get up and discovers the infamous 'wet spot'. What is this, Spencer? says the farm girl who apparently never paid any attention to farm animals, or breeding, or anything. Busted, Spencer. "I'm sorry," he says.
Oh, the perfidy!! (my favourite new word) Olivia is devastated. Not only has he been a complete jerk to her, now she knows he's been betraying her in bed too! Numerous fights occur, and Olivia goes to live with her brother and sister-in-law and takes the kids.
Spencer, now knowing what a jackass he had been, does lots of things designed to redeem himself to Olivia, including finally saying goodbye to his dead family. Too late, she says, over and over. He even makes new beds for all of them, including the kids. (Maybe, I was thinking, you'll let the poor boy have his own bed instead of the couch where you've put him through the whole damn book.)
Then, more of that convoluted stuff goes on, including the ugly old spinster (general store owner's daughter) committing suicide, Olivia's nephew knocking up his girlfriend so they have to get married right quicklike, Louisa (the 12yr old) takes a gun and tries to kill HERself, the boy and his cousin muck about with telegrams in an attempt to get Spencer the douchebag and Olivia the wide-eyed innocent back together, Spencer sells the farm and buys the general store or something, I couldn't figure it out. And didn't care, by that point.
So, Spencer the jerk, the guy most deserving of any romance novel I have ever read to end up alone, ends up with ingenuous Olivia, and the kids. The book ends with the 2 of them in the new bed Spencer has built (engraved with their initials, awww) talking about how maybe they made a baby.
Blech. Blech, blech, and double blech.
I'm not even going to start on the other stuff in the book. Like that the author drops all these HUGE hints about Louisa being molested by her father. And NOBODY DOES A THING ABOUT IT. Why drop it in if you aren't going to use it?
Same with the suicide of Emma, the spectacularly unattractive daughter of the general store owner. The author subjects that poor character to page after page of insults, slights, mockery and finally has her kill herself. In a wagon outside of a church at a wedding. All covered with blood so the 10yr old can find her. WTF? Her character had been chasing after the railroad surveyor through the whole book, and the surveyor had the hots for Olivia, but really. She even has the poor woman's father in on the insults.
Maybe I just shouldn't read "americana". I love LaVyrle Spencer (and that's what her historicals were) but haven't read anyone else. Maybe I should leave it that way. Done right, regular, turn-of-the-century farm or small-town folk can be written beautifully. Done not so right, and it comes off as homespun and hokey.
I see from the reviews on GR that lots of people LOVED this book. I just don't understand why. ...more
No one wrote a love story quite like LaVyrle Spencer did. I haven't read another author who got me to care that much about her characters -- butterfliNo one wrote a love story quite like LaVyrle Spencer did. I haven't read another author who got me to care that much about her characters -- butterflies in my stomach, ache in my heart, lump in my throat.
Spencer had a very specific talent. Her heroes weren't always impossibly handsome, nor were her heroines long-tressed beauties with perfect lips. There were no pirate ships or ballrooms or carriages. She took run-of-the-mill folks and made them beautiful. Just ordinary people, leading regular lives. Spencer's talent lay in making these people come alive - they virtually jump off the pages.
In Morning Glory they were people like Elly Dinsmore - five months pregnant, poor, with brown hair that needed washing and a tired face that was old before it's time. And Will Parker. He is thin, hungry, desperate. Needing a haircut with "brown eyes that looked as if he worked hard to keep the expression out of them".
Elly has spent most of her life living in a house with the blinds drawn. She was born out of wedlock to the daughter of a travelling preacher and watched her mother go crazy and die inside the house. She has always been a recluse, known as "Crazy Elly" to everyone in town. She married to escape; now widowed, with 2 small boys and pregnant with her third, she advertises in the classifieds for a husband.
Will has never belonged anywhere. Abandoned as an infant, living in foster homes until he struck out on his own at 14, he bounced around from place to place. His last bounce ended him in prison convicted of murder. He has just been fired from a labourer's job after his record is discovered. He is mocked by the foreman who suggests he reply to Crazy Elly's ad for husband. Desperate and almost starving, he does.
No one had ever given either a chance. This book is about Elly and Will - and the chances they took with each other. To Will, Elly represents everything he never had -- a home, a family, a mother, a lover, a wife, a place where he belongs. For Elly, Will is a father for her children, a provider, a man. Most of all, he shows her what love is - passionate, romantic, unconditional love. They become so much more together than they ever were alone. They stand taller, prouder, they are beautiful - first to each other then to themselves. They each redeem the other.
I won't give away much more of the story than I already have -- Will and Elly marry, of course, but there is so much more to the book -- a wonderfully drawn secondary character, a couple of villians. Will joins the Marines and ships out to the South Pacific. A section of the book is simply their letters to each other, full of love and yearning. Beautifully done. Will returns home with Purple Heart and a bit of PTSD; there is a murder and their relationship is tested.
My rating when I re-read this book recently was 4 stars. I've been thinking about it while writing this, and looking at other reviews. One review had as it's tag line "A tender story of longing and fulfillment..." and it really is. Another said "Spencer is a master storyteller, and this is one of her best", and it's that too. So I'm changing my rating to a 5 star.
This book made my heart hurt. I didn't want it to end.