Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Fulfillment by LaVyrle Spencer

Another day, another (short) book. The Fulfillment is apparently Spencer's first book, if publication date is any indicator.

It's a completely different plot from any romance novel I've read. There are 3 people, Jonathan Gray, his wife Mary and his brother Aaron. When the Gray brothers' parents were killed, the will stipulated that the house went to Aaron, and the farmland to Jonathan. Mary grew up in Chicago, and came to their rural midwest area to visit her aunt - while she was there, her father died, and she stayed on at her aunt's until she married Jonathan.

Jonathan and Mary and Aaron share the house and the land and its bounty. A few years into the marriage, Aaron left the farm to live in the city, to give Jonathan and Mary some privacy. But after a year there, he was unhappy, and Jonathan needed him on the farm, so he came back. Seven years have passed since Mary and Jonathan wed - and as the story opens it's 1910, and we learn that Jonathan is probably sterile from childhood mumps, and has decided after much pondering to ask Aaron to sire a child with Mary.

I had a hard time getting into Jonathan's head in this book. Somehow he spent a lot of time thinking about having a child, and has reconciled himself to the necessity of asking Aaron to be the father. Mary does wish for a child, but not obsessively so, and has been following the advice of a doctor to have sex when she is most likely to be fertile, to no avail. She loves Jonathan, however, and is appalled when he announces his intentions to her and Aaron.

Aaron is also appalled - he had been courting Priscilla, a neighbor, but was reluctant to marry her because he doesn't really love her. In fact, he recently told her he wasn't ready for commitment, and she broke up with him. However, he can't believe what Jonathan has asked him to do - how could he sleep with his brother's wife? In his frustration, he goes back to Priscilla, but she won't have him back. And now that Jonathan has brought the proverbial elephant into the room, it's all Aaron can think about - and Aaron realizes there is an attraction between him and Mary.

To further complicate matters, Mary also becomes acutely aware of her relationships with each brother. Jonathan, her husband and lover, isn't very attentive. He doesn't notice when she dresses up for him. He doesn't offer courtesies and help. But Aaron does. They all go to a dance together, and somehow Jonathan disappears and Aaron ends up dancing with Mary, confusing both their feelings for the other even more.

Jonathan has another dream: to start a cattle ranch, raising Angus cattle instead of farming the land. He has been researching this for a while, and plans a trip out of town to buy a bull at a time when neither Mary nor Aaron can accompany him. It seems his trip is planned to accomplish both his goals: buy his bull and throw Mary and Aaron together to conceive a child. Everything in his life is about procreation, and when he can't do it himself, he'll just see that it gets done under his control.

While he's gone, Aaron and Mary become more and more aware of their growing attraction. The temptation is too much and they give in to what has now become both their desires. Poor Mary - Aaron has more experience with women than Jonathan, and she discovers sexual joys she has never felt before. To top it off, it's her fertile time as well, and she conceives. Her love shifts completely from Jonathan to Aaron, and she is thoroughly conflicted about Jonathan's return and his place in her heart.

This isn't the first Spencer book I have read with a story line for which there can be no completely happy ending. In Twice Loved, the hero returns from 5 years at sea to discover he's been declared dead and his best friend has married his wife. In Home Song, the hero, married 18 years, learns for the first time he fathered a child with another woman 1 week before his marriage to his then-pregnant bride, so now he has 2 sons the same age. Home Song was easier to resolve than Twice Loved, but still brought a lot of pain and anguish to so many people. But in The Fulfillment, the one I couldn't comprehend was Jonathan. Was he simple? Deluded? At one point, Aaron says to him that he (Aaron) would kill any man who slept with his wife. Jonathan knows - they all acknowledge the child is Aaron's, out loud, to each other. But Jonathan keeps his eyes on the prize - the end justifies the means for him. If he feels anything negative at all, Spencer doesn't say.

I found it interesting that I dreamed of tornadoes last night, long before I read the scene in the book where a tornado changes the direction of their lives, leading to a HEA that is not completely happy for everyone involved. It's almost more like her last book, Then Came Heaven, in that perhaps providence played a part.

Spencer's writing is wonderful, as always, and I enjoyed the journey even though she never let me get inside Jonathan's head enough to understand him. I'm somewhere between 3 and 4 stars on this one.

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