Chance of a Lifetime
I was delighted to find that Chance of a Lifetime is set in Fort Davis, Texas, in 1868, since our family visited that site recently and I had thought it would make a wonderful setting for a novel. My delight had waned, however, by the end of the first chapter. An annoying heroine combined with unlikely events, and inadequate dialogue make for a difficult first half, although the second half of the story is something of an improvement.
Sabrina Bolton is the only surviving daughter of Martha and Quartermaster Edward Bolton, and the family is stationed at Fort Davis. Sabrina’s mother has been in a fourteen-year depression following the accidental death of Sabrina’s twin sister, and Sabrina has since lived with the guilt of her sister’s death and her mother’s subsequent emotional problems, plus the nagging voice of her dead sister in her mind. She is being courted by dashing Captain Lon Jasper, whom her mother insists is Sabrina’s chance of a lifetime, and Sabrina is trying hard to feel for Lon the “butterflies” that, according to her romance novels, always accompany true love. Unfortunately, the butterflies seem to have flown south, but Sabrina knows that she has little choice in the matter of becoming Lon’s wife since it seems to be the only thing that might give her mother some happiness.
The story opens with Sabrina hearing the bugle announcing the approach of troops, and she rushes out half-dressed in a gown her mother is in the process of fitting. Sabrina stands in the road, trying to hold closed the only half-sewn dress, determined to be overwhelmed with butterflies as she catches sight of Lon. Instead, she hears thundering hooves behind her as an apparent Apache comes galloping straight down the mountainside on his black stallion. Here is where the story lost me. This Apache, who isn’t really one since he is white but had been raised by Apaches, can ride a stallion down a mountainside at top speed, but apparently doesn’t think he can manage to avoid one small woman standing stock still in a road. He shouts to her to get out of the way rather than try to steer the horse in another direction. Sabrina, in the meantime, goes through a page and a half of oh-my-God type internal thought as she manages to take a step or two, only to trip over her dress. There is a dramatic stallion-rearing-over-the-head-of-terrified-maiden moment before the man, Tremayne, gets his horse stopped and under control.
While I found it highly unlikely that a young woman of that day, especially one who has made it her life-quest to be a credit to her mother, would be standing in the road half-naked to begin with, the dialogue that follows the horse encounter did a lot to convince me that Sabrina was indeed half-witted. Here is an example of dialogue patterns that persist throughout the first several chapters:
“Are you hurt?”
(Several paragraphs of Sabrina’s dazed thoughts.)
“Are you hurt?” he repeated.
(Several more paragraphs of wondering thought)
“You speak English,” she said.
“And you obviously understand it, so answer me. Are you hurt?”
This is not an isolated incident. Everyone has to constantly repeat questions to her, and she never answers the question, she instead responds with another question or an inane observation. There is far too little meaningful dialogue in the first half of the book, and far too much repetitive internalization.
In the second half, Sabrina comes off a bit better. Tremayne has to resolve his desire for Sabrina with his belief that there could be no successful mixing of their different lifestyles. Sabrina has to resolve her belief that she owes her mother happiness with her desire for a man who would definitely not make her mother happy. Events escalate that add tension to the tale, and a few interesting secondary characters develop.
By the end of the book I was glad to see Sabrina and Tremayne work out their differences. There is adequate realism in the resolution of most of the story problems, which somewhat offsets the silliness of the beginning. Still, in order to reach the better second half, you have to read the beginning first. Unless you want to read half a good book, I recommend looking elsewhere.