This is Ross here, aka Crossword Man, reporting on Magdalen's Mandatory Manread assignment. I can't say I was thrilled with the prospect of reading a romance novel, much less write about it, which is perhaps why it's taken me since January to "get around to" a post about the experience.
Why did I agree to do it then? Well, for one thing, I give in to Magdalen easily. She also went for the old trick of giving me lots of options about which book I could read, while making it clear I had to read something. Plus I had a certain curiosity about the bodice-ripping world into which Magdalen immerses herself. And, although thinking what to say isn't easy, I love choosing the pictures for a blog post.
Of the books on offer, I opted for Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer, largely because of its setting in the American South around the time of World War II. As a Brit recent arrived in the USA, I'm trying to immerse myself in American culture, current and historical, a challenge I write about every day in An Englishman Solves American Crosswords. The last thing I wanted to do was read a historical romance set in England, which (to judge by Magdalen's experience) would be sure to contain a host of actual or suspected inaccuracies.
At the start of Morning Glory, I immediately felt alienated from the hero Will Parker, who steals apples and buttermilk in the second paragraph. That made me a little uncertain of his character throughout the book, though less so as the story progresses. I particularly relate to his gradual tidying up of the heroine's property; this seems to be our lot in life too, although we haven't tried to keep bees yet. Anyway, the author paints an ambiguous picture of Will, quite unlike what I'm used to in a Dickens hero, who would rather die than steal from someone else.
The heroine Elly Dinsmore also starts out as a relatively unsympathetic character, seemingly still half-crazy after a childhood in which she isn't allowed out of the house (and then when forced to, to go to school, is of course teased mercilessly). She advertises for a husband (did that really happen??), as follows, which is how she meets and comes to marry Will (only falling in love with him after he proves himself in the early months of the marriage):
WANTED--A HUSBAND. Needhealthy man of any age willingto work a spread and share theplace. See E. Dinsmore, top ofRock Creek Road.
The lurching gyrations in the hero and heroine's life towards the end of the book are I gather par for the course for the romance genre: things seem to be going along swimmingly until Will is wrongly accused of murder and in a moment the relationship falls apart - admittedly Elly soon changes her mind about her husband's guilt, but Will goes to pieces in jail and imagines his wife couldn't love him. A few pages later, Will is cleared of the charges and the couple are back to normal just in time for the book to end.
The character I like the most is the librarian Gladys Beasley, and there's a hint at the end of the book that she'll belatedly get into a romance of her own with Robert Collins, the lawyer who saves Will from the murder charge. Miss Beasley is a wonderful comic character, who appears stern to start with, but sees the good side in Will and gives him a job as a janitor in the library.
Some of the other minor characters are less believable to the point of being clichéd: I've never come across anyone quite like Lula Peak, the town floozy who has the hots for Will; and the sadistic foreman Harley Overmire seems reminiscent of many movie villains.
I'm puzzled about Whitney, GA, the town where Elly and Will live. Although there is a small place by that name in Georgia, I don't think it's the one in which the book is set. Will and/or Elly make trips into Calhoun, Georgia to get married and see movies such as Gone with the Wind (1939) there; it's also the setting for the climactic court case at the end of the book. Whitney, GA is presumably fictional then, set somewhere in Gordon County ... I imagine the courthouse as looking very like it does today (see right).
Here are some random things I learned from the book:
how to tell a row house from a frame house (terraced and detached houses in Britspeak)
that a Ball jar is like a Mason jar
civilians had to make do with the "rotten" Sen-Sen because Wrigley's gave all the gum to the troops
if a kitchen didn't have a faucet, water was stored in a "reservoir", the lid of which was a great place for keeping food cool
To sum up, I enjoyed reading Morning Glory, but less for the romantic story than the picture it paints of the time and place, and the comic aspects. Clearly it is a well-regarded romance, winning a Romance Writers of America RITA Award. It's just not my fav genre and when I get a chance to read fiction, I'll stick to my preference for comedy (Wodehouse, Waugh et al) and classic fiction from Dickens onwards.