For about the first 100 pages of this book, I had to overcome the temptation to toss it through the roof and into orbit. I hated Eulie Toby the heroine, I hated what she had done to Moss Collier, the hero, and above it all I loathed how she kept referring to him as “the husband man.” After about what seemed the thousandth reference, I was screaming, “His name is Moss! Moss! M-O-S-S! Moss! Not ‘husband man,’ you bloody idiot”! But just as I was read to launch the book – darned if it didn’t settle down and get good! While it does not reach the heights of the best of Morsi’s books like Courting Miss Hattie or Garters, it does show why she is the best Americana writer around.
Eulie Toby is the daughter of a worthless, shiftless tenant farmer. When he and her mother died, the family was split apart and the children taken in by kind neighbors in Sweetwood. Even though the younger children are quite happy, Eulie wants the family together and lets it slip to the elders of Sweetwood that the young farmer Moss Collier has had his way with her. Poor Moss finds himself married at the end of a shotgun and now has an unwanted wife and her five siblings to take care of.
Moss does not like farming. He lives and dreams of going West. He has spent an outrageous amount to buy Red Tex, a beautiful cow horse and is just waiting for his Uncle Jeptha, a legless Civil War veteran to pass on and then he’s going to be gone and heading West. But now he has even more responsibilities than ever.
But Eulie offers a way out. She wants to keep her family together and it doesn’t matter if Moss is in it or not. If he wants to go West, that’s fine. She will stay on the farm and work it with her siblings and take care of Uncle Jeptha and things will be fine.
Moss is amazed. But his sense of honor will not allow him to leave the farm in bad shape, so he and Eulie start to work it in earnest. He has to make repairs, and put in a bigger crop and do all the little things that he has neglected so that when he does go West, Eulie and the others can manage it and as he does, he begins to see the land, the farm and Eulie in a whole new light.
Sweetwood Bride is full of colorful and interesting secondary characters. Moss’s Uncle Jeptha, who lost his legs in the Civil War, is an especially good character. Jeptha had been a handsome young man who had loved to dance and had loved young Sairy deeply. They had made love the night before he left for war and that experience had been his only one. When he lost his legs, he became a hermit and shut himself off even though Sairy, now a widow, lives in Sweetwood. Their re-discovery of each other and Jeptha’s coming back into the community brought tears to my eyes.
Eulie and Moss were an okay couple but not as memorable as some of Morsi’s other couples, such as Cora and Jedwin from Wild Oats. I did like her showing how they found love not in storm and stress, but in the ordinary mundane tasks of living. But Eulie’s initial lie to force Moss to marry her left me feeling less than charitable toward her and the feeling had not worn off by the end of the book.
While the main characters were not my favorite couple, I can still recommend Sweetwood Bride for its wonderful portrayal of a small farming community in the Tennessee mountains. Pamela Morsi is just plain good at portraying backwoods characters in all their eccentricities. She never condescends toward her characters and her respect for them shines through. And that, I think is what makes her the best Americana romance writer today.