by Jill Marie Landis, historical (2003)
Ivy, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-44042-0
Jill Marie Landis' Magnolia Creek has a different plot that stands out among post-Civil War Americana romance novels. Unfortunately, to enjoy this book, the reader will have to sit through the hero's unreasonable attitude for a long, long time as well as to accept a too-tidy resolution to a complicated internal conflict.
Six years ago, Dr Dru Talbot, from an influential family, married Sara Collier, a young woman from the wrong side of the streets, after a mere two week's courtship. The War Between The States broke out soon after and Dru went to do his duty by the Confederacy. When Dru was reported to be killed in the battlefield, Sara seeked solace in the arms of a Union soldier. The relationship didn't work out and Sara and her daughter Elizabeth are now forced to return to Magnolia Creek, Kentucky, a fallen woman with an illegitimate child she had with the enemy. When Dru shows up, alive, oh boy.
For a long, long, long time, Dru acts as if he's been betrayed by Sara and he often inflicts very cruel verbal and psychological wounds on her. Personally, I have a hard time buying his logic. He is reported dead. The army confirmed his death to Sara. Sara moved on to another man whom she thought loved her as much as she he. Is that wrong? Is she supposed to sit at home and die just because her husband is killed in battlefield? I have to bite my lower lip hard to keep my hands from throwing this book out the window, but after what seems like the hundredth time Dru accuses Sara of behaving like a slut, it is not easy on my poor lower lip.
The external conflict comes from the townspeople of Magnolia Creek coming together to personally stone Sara whom they perceive as the slut who slept with the enemy. Dru will have to protect Sara even if for a long time he agrees with these people. As for Sara, if the author hasn't made her so cut off from anyone that she has no choice but to throw herself at the mercy of Dru and Dru's sister Louzanna, she would have walked away. Sara has thought of doing so, good for her, but the author makes sure that Sara is trapped by her circumstances to the extent that Sara really has nowhere else to go.
I finish this book with many doubts about the relationship between Sara and Dru. The disparity of their station in life is great, and the fact that they married with romanticized and unrealistic assumptions of each other doesn't help matters. But my main reservations lie in the fact that nowhere in this book does Dru show any sign that he respects Sara. Please don't throw that historical accuracy argument at me - I refuse to believe that mutual respect in a healthy relationship is a twentieth century concept. His reasoning regarding Sara's "betrayal" of him smacks of the attitude of a man who expects his wife to be grateful for him marrying her. I really want to scream when Dru doesn't grovel at the end as much as he demands that she forgives him along with he forgiving her. Seriously, after all the nonsense he puts her through, what is there for him to forgive her for? For moving on with life? God!
Dru's sister Louzanna is a sympathetic character. This woman is traumatized by the death of her betrothed that she is terrified of leaving the house. Her friendship with Sara and how this friendship causes her to reevaluate her life and beliefs is one of the best thing about this story. Sara often comes off as a sucker for punishment when she keeps trying to get Dru to take her back, but as I've said, the author leaves Sara with no other choice. The other characters are stereotypes right down to the sheep-minded vigilante townspeople and the Good Black Ex-Slave (who is good because she thoughtfully stays behind and keeps serving the Master and Mistress even when she's a free woman now).
A few flippant apologies are supposed to be adequate closure to Sara's emotional wounds inflicted by Dru and the people of Magnolia Creek. For me, I'd prefer to see Sara, Lou, and young Elizabeth hold hands and walk away from this place and start a new life somewhere far, far away from these people. Magnolia Creek should be commended for being different, but that doesn't overlook the fact that it leaves me very disappointed and even mildly angry at the short stick Sara is given in this story, a story that is supposed to be about how she finds a great love of her life. Seems to me like she's instead forced to leap from one frying pan into another.
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