Saturday, June 28, 2008

November of the Heart by LaVyrle Spencer ****

I'm very close to finishing all the LaVyrle Spencer books - after this one, I have The Endearment in my TBR pile, and Sweet Memories in my To Acquire pile.

November of the Heart is one of her "Americana" books - it takes place in 1895 Minnesota. A rich young woman, Lorna, yearns to be more independent and liberated from the structure that women much follow. She is the eldest child of a wealthy family whose father loves racing sail boats at his yacht club. In their employ is a young Norwegian immigrant Jens who yearns to build boats, and has a design in his head that will produce a very fast racing sailboat.

Of course, in their world, not only do the rich not mingle with their help, they don't even know their help. I found that a little surprising - Lorna not only didn't know their names, but didn't seem to have ever even been in the kitchen before.

So when she learns that Jens has a design, she is overcome with curiosity and seeks him out to find out more about it. It's scandalous enough that she wants to sail, but to actually speak to and even encourage kitchen help - well, it's too much! But she manages to not only find out about his design, she is able to convince her father to allow him to build it.

She is drawn to this handsome young man in spite of having a perfectly good beau - a man of her social strata who plans to marry her. Against the wishes of her parents, though, she sneaks out to the shop where Jens is building the boat - and she assists in building their relationship from friends to eventually lovers. Although he tells her that what they are doing could lead to her getting pregnant, neither one can resist, and soon she is not only visiting him in the barn, she is also going to his bedroom during the night.

She tells the beau she is no longer interested so that she is truly available only to Jens. They figure when the boat wins the race for her father, he will be able to overlook Jens's status as kitchen help and allow Lorna to marry him. Then she discovers she is indeed pregnant, and she and Jens decide to go to her parents with their intention to marry now. Their big mistake, as far as I was concerned, was not getting married first and then telling her parents - they went straight to the parents who physically removed her from him, tossed him out without a reference (leaving the boat half finished) and scooted her off to a convent to bear the child and give it up for adoption.

The issue that swayed Lorna into considering giving the child up instead of marrying Jens was how her family, especially her sisters, would be affected by her bearing a child by kitchen help - she was convinced she was ruining their lives. I guess it was meant to be a measure of her youth and immaturity that she couldn't stand up to her parents. Twice Jens tried to convince her to marry him against their wishes, and twice she refused. Finally he told her if she gave the child up for adoption, he would never forgive her and would hate her forever.

Meanwhile, Jens managed to find other funding for his boat design, built it, raced it and won hands down - to the shock of the Old School sailors at the yacht club who were laughing at his crazy ideas. This lead to his being able to start a successful boat building business, so now he could support Lorna and the baby - but she still refused him.

Their journey wasn't over - the parents managed to pull one more trick out of their hat by basically stealing the baby from Lorna at birth and putting him up for adoption with someone they knew so that they could keep tabs on him as he grew up. This seemed so incongruous to me - they wouldn't allow Lorna to keep and raise him, but they wouldn't let him out of their sight? I guess they were as conflicted as Lorna about their true feelings.

Eventually the mystery of his whereabouts is solved, and Lorna and Jens find their way to each other and to forgiveness. As usual, Spencer managed to make me feel their indecision, their anguish and their joy in reuniting, and I give this a solid 4 stars - it didn't make it to re-read status but I liked it a lot.

I still think Morning Glory is Spencer's own crowning glory - the one where she manages to truly capture the feelings of 2 people conflicted by so many outside influences who find family and acceptance and love in each other. She also made me feel the struggles and real emotions of the characters in That Camden Summer, another of my Spencer all-time favorites (I think I say this in almost every review I do). Of her contemporaries, I think Small Town Girl and Family Blessings came the closest to Morning Glory. The only 2 I really didn't like were Vows and Spring Fancy.

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