Desert Isle Keeper
So often heroes and heroines of romances are larger-than-life characters. Lords, ladies, knights, cowboys, and swashbuckling types in general. There’s nothing wrong with that, we all like a little wish fulfillment and fantasy in our reading. After all, if we read nothing but books about people like ourselves, it would be very boring. It takes a writer of talent to make the lives of plain, ordinary people not only interesting but memorable. LaVyrle Spencer accomplishes this in the book that I think is her masterpiece – Morning Glory.
Morning Glory takes place in Whitney, Georgia just before the United States’ entry into World War II. Ellie Dinsmore is a widow, pregnant, with two small boys, living on a ramshackle farm. Will Parker is an ex-convict who has just been fired from his first job since he left prison. He is literally starving to death. When Will sees Ellie’s advertisement for a husband in the town newspaper, he walks out to her farm and two plain, ordinary, lonely people meet and find love.
The story unfolds gradually and gives us plenty of time get to know the characters and their stories. Will Parker, foundling, drifter, and ex-con, has never had a family of his own. Ellie Dinsmore, born out of wedlock and raised behind the shuttered windows and closed doors of her fanatical grandparents’ house is called “Crazy Ellie” by the town. These two lonely people find in each other what they have longed for. In Ellie, Will gets a combination wife, mother, and lover, and she and her children become the family he has wanted all his life. In Will, Ellie gets a good husband and father for her children, and is loved and appreciated for the first time in her life.
Along with the wonderful relationship between Will and Ellie, Ms. Spencer has created some vivid secondary characters in Morning Glory. I especially want to mention the town librarian, Miss Gladys Beasley. Miss Beasley is, at first glance, a real iron lady. She is gruff, tough, and no-nonsense, from her tight perm to her sensible shoes. Miss Beasley is a shrewd judge of character and her gruffness hides a heart of softest marshmallow. She becomes Will Parker’s champion and mentor and helps him coax Ellie from her self-imposed isolation.
Will and Ellie are separated when he joins the Marines and serves in the South Pacific during the War. Ms. Spencer covers this section in an exchange of letters including one from Ellie to Will in which she writes to tell him how much she loves him and how much he has come to mean to her. This letter, ill-spelt and ungrammatical, is one of the most moving love letters I have ever read.
Will returns home a decorated hero, but shortly after his return he is accused of murder. Ellie has to overcome her fear and hatred of the town and go into it to find evidence that will clear Will. In the aftermath of the trial, Ellie and Will realize that for the first time in their isolated lives, they finally belong somewhere. It’s this yearning to belong that lifts Morning Glory out of the ordinary. LaVyrle Spencer’s best books – Morning Glory, Years and Bittersweet all address, not only the relationship between the hero and heroine, but their relationship with the larger community. Will and Ellie begin their healing when they find each other, and that healing is completed when they make their peace with the town of Whitney and are accepted by it.