Adventure in the National Parks! Romance! Exploration of changing roles for women! Lots of nature photography! Marci’s Desire certainly sounded like a historical with a lot going for it and I went into the book thinking it would be a lot of fun to read. Sadly, for a book with so much going on , it ended up being a surprisingly slow read.
Marcia (Marci) Winters is a likable, if slightly vapid, young college student at Wells College in the 1890s. Her father works in the Treasury Department in DC and as the daughter of an influential man, she’s enjoyed a decidedly sheltered life. Her primary plans seem to involve enjoying her time at Wells and then marrying Stanton Caldwell, an ambitious political operative. At the beginning of the story, Marci has been chosen as part of a group of students to go to West Point for a mixer with the cadets.
The cadet to whom Marci is assigned, Myles Cade McDowell, makes an immediate impression on her. They share a wonderful time together and become fast friends with chemistry that hints at more, despite Marci making it clear that she has plans with another. Myles, who grew up in poverty following the death of his soldier father, recognizes the vast social divide between him and Marci, but he cannot help developing feelings for her.
Their magical time together might have ended up just being a great big mutual crush if not for what happens next. Marci ends up having to leave Wells in disgrace as, true to the time period, the college is scandalized to learn that she spent time at her escort’s barracks without a chaperone. That Marci never actually entered the building makes no difference – back to DC she goes.
Meanwhile, Cade graduates West Point and gets his first assignment to what is now Yellowstone National Park. Don’t worry; Cade and Marci will find one another again. During this portion of the book, the coincidences are a bit much to accept but Marci’s combination of high-spiritedness and naivete makes the various fixes she gets into feel a little more believable. Having learned little from her experience at West Point, Marci finds herself in another compromising position, this time in a bedroom with Stanton Caldwell.
Even though Marci may have hopes for a future with Stanton, he appears to think otherwise as he certainly doesn’t bother offering to marry Marci and protect her from the scandal. It is at this point that some readers will likely sneer in Stanton’s general direction, a tendency that keeps popping up for readers from time to time in this book. Marci’s father decides she needs to get out of DC to let things blow over (and he also doesn’t want her to end up with Stanton – wise man), so he gets her a job as assistant to a female photographer headed west.
By this time, no one will be surprised to learn that “west” means Yellowstone. Guess who Marci encounters in Yellowstone? Oh yes, none other than Cade McDowell. And indeed Cade is still wildly attracted to Marci while also being convinced that the great social divide between them will just keep it all from working. It’s a believable conflict but it’s one that goes on and on and on. After a few scenes between these two, I just found myself wishing that Cade would wake up and start realizing that he was the only one deeply obsessed with the class issue.
The historical background of this book really is fascinating. I loved getting a peek inside DC political life and the history of Yellowstone Park. However, the story dragged a bit in places because while Marci often felt young, naive and painfully believable at times, Cade just never came to life. He always seemed like Standard Issue Hero to me. As a result, his initial mooning over Marci seemed kind of extreme and the romance never really caught my imagination. It has its good moments, but there’s also too much by way of wooden dialogue and improbable plotting, such as the scene where sexytimes get interrupted by a bear attack.
Marci’s Desire has its moments, but since it never truly came to life for me, it ended up being only a slightly better than average read. The setting is fascinating, but the book could have used a little more depth with the characterizations.