Heaven Sent is an apt title for this one if by heaven you mean the version that is portrayed on Touched by an Angel. A perfectly tragic hero becomes the project of a perfectly plucky heroine who is determined to aid his perfect moppet of a daughter.
Our plucky heroine is Miss Callida Prophet, a rural postal carrier in 1890’s California. She started tampering with the mail when six-year-old Becky Lockhart began writing to her dead mother in heaven. Callie can’t bear the thought of these letters going unanswered so she’s been writing back as Becky’s mother in order to comfort the lonely girl. Becky’s father, Aubrey, is the richest man in Santa Angelica (hmm…Miss Prophet in Santa Angelica, is that a clue about the plot?) and he’s still in despair over the death of his wife, Anne. It’s been a year and Callie is more then a little irritated that the man is neglecting his daughter. Something has to be done.
When Becky writes that her father is thinking of hiring a nanny, Callie gives up her mail route and applies for the position. Luckily she has a teaching degree and is perfect for the job. Aubrey would have liked someone older but when he sees how attached his daughter is to Miss Prophet he hires her. At this point Aubrey is still so immersed in his grief over the death of his fragile, gentle beauty of a wife, Anne. His ordered life of self-pity faces some interruptions when Callie moves in and begins to get the household and its inhabitants in order.
The perfect set-up for the plot doesn’t mean the characters are perfect. At times they are far from it. That’s where the book shows promise. Aubrey is far from likable at the beginning of the book. He spends all of his time cursing the fates for taking his beloved wife and bemoaning his loss. This offers a great opportunity for him to become a very complex character, but falls somewhat short. It’s that perfect thing again. His self-centeredness, though criticized by Callie, is also “understood” by her – and everyone else. He’s so tragic that it’s natural that he should behave so badly. The tendency by everyone to forever view him as the grieving widower allows his behavior to go on for too long, until it’s almost too late to like him.
Once Callie begins to shake him loose from this behavior the story begins to take on a touch of realism. She has fallen for him, but fears that he could never love her as he did his first wife. This is another instance of real problem that could arise in this situation, and greatly increased my interest in the story. Unfortunately this is a plot thread that doesn’t get enough play. Instead, Callie focuses on a mistake she’s made. She’s afraid he’ll find out and be angry. That would be fine, but the mistake, while an invasion of his privacy, is not earth shattering. This was never as interesting as the other threads anyway.
When Callie and Aubrey started to behave like real people for a few chapters I began to hope this would be a decent read after all. They were finally turning into people the reader could believe in and root for. Even the love scene made me cheer. It was natural and awkward and tender and funny.
Too bad all that ends when Callie’s big secret is revealed. Now both characters get to wallow in their perfectly bad behavior. Callie is damned by him; Aubrey thinks: “[She’s] a doxy. A manipulative bitch, and he hated her.” Callie isn’t far behind in her own self-condemnation: she’s an “Idiot…Fool! Wicked, deceiving fiend!” Both reactions are way over the top, considering her supposed crime and the fact that they were just declaring their love a few pages before.
The final chapter continued to illustrate how black and white everything had to be in this book. Callie was wicked, until she wasn’t anymore – and then she was good. There was very little “gray” in this world, and that made it hard to relate to the characters. For a few chapters I was able to like and root for these people, but those were just a brief glimpse of what this book could have been, and they made my frustration that much greater.
|Review Date:||August 24, 2001|