The title of this book is a puzzler, since Aubrey Fairgrieve, the hero, spends relatively little time actually courting Susannah. Instead, both of them are constantly Remembering Julia, Aubrey’s late unlamented wife and Susannah’s childhood best friend. It’s an off-center focus in an unremarkable story. This book is a passable time-killer, but nothing more.
Susannah McKittrick has traveled from the East Coast to Seattle in order to fulfill Julia’s dying request and care for her infant daughter. She’s braced for the worst in Julia’s husband; her friend’s letters grew bitter in the course of their marriage and by the end Julia depicted Aubrey as unfaithful and unfeeling. Susannah’s first impression is no better – Aubrey hasn’t named his four-month-old daughter, and doesn’t believe that she’s his. However, he doesn’t protest as Susannah makes herself at home. Instead, he’s increasingly fascinated by her, and is relieved to have a reliable caregiver for the baby.
Naturally, Susannah and Aubrey’s mutual attraction blossoms, even as they are distracted by Aubrey’s feud with his brother, the local society women who want Susannah either safely married or run out of town, and Susannah’s piano lessons, which are popular among local single miners.
The story has a Teflon quality to it – it slides along from point to point, with nothing so bad that it disrupts the flow, but also nothing so good that it attracts much interest. Aubrey is the biggest problem; it’s hard to work up much feeling for him. He’s a mass of inconsistencies and omissions. It was never clear to me how the child of an abusive logger made the transition from poverty to prosperity, or why Aubrey lives in a mansion when his brother lives in the old family shack. He’s an undistinguished, paint-by-numbers hero: Troubled past? Check. Betrayed by a woman? Check. Afraid to love? You got it.
Susannah is somewhat better – she’s ladylike without being prim and nurturing without being a doormat – but she has her plot-contrived contradictions as well. Both characters suffer from their association with Julia. Aubrey wed Julia in haste, but nothing more than luck ensures that he won’t repent his equally rushed attachment to Susannah at leisure. Susannah clings to her loving memories of her friend, but we never learn a single good thing about her from anyone else. It calls both characters’ judgement into question, with no satisfactory resolution.
If you’ve read many books by Linda Lael Miller, there are certain things you know from the start, and the only surprise here is how long it takes the story to reach them. You know that bad guys will eventually grind Aubrey into paste so that Susannah can nurse him back to health. You know there will be plots and evil bad guys, although in this case they take a while to show up and their involvement is very rushed and ultimately nonsensical, involving the conspiracy of completely unrelated characters with no explanation of what drew them together.
The time period, which attracted me to the book in the first place, is surprisingly vague. I’ve enjoyed other books set just after the turn of the century, but if there was a concrete reason why this book was set in 1906 and not 1876-1896, I didn’t see it.
Despite all of the above, this isn’t a bad book – it’s just not very good. I never hit a wall-banger moment in my first breeze through; most of my problems emerged on a second, more careful reading to write this review. If you’ve found Linda Lael Miller to be an acceptable read before, then this book is no worse than many, and perhaps an improvement on her most recent output. It isn’t groundbreaking or memorable, but there are worse ways to pass the time.
|Review Date:||October 31, 2000|