The Glorious Prodigal
Gilbert Morris is a very popular author in my geographical area. At my library Christian fiction has a huge readership, and Gilbert Morris is one of the most popular authors. He’s written more than 70 books, 25 of them in the House of Winslow series alone. The Glorious Prodigal is the twenty-fourth book in this series. The series begins with the story of Gilbert Winslow who came to America with the Pilgrims. Other books have followed the lives of subsequent Winslows throughout American history. The Glorious Prodigal is set beginning in 1903.
Leah Freeman is a young woman of good name and unquestioned virtue. When the book begins she is a typist in a small Arkansas town. She is pretty and popular and being pursued by the eligible but dull Mott Castleton. While she is at a ball, escorted by Mott, she encounters the most intriguing young man she’s ever come across. Tall, handsome, and very charming, Stuart Winslow is also a bit of a small town rake. But he’s most appealing playing his violin and singing at the ball. Despite being warned against Stuart by numerous people, Leah decides he’s too delicious to pass up and allows him to court her.
Now Stuart does have honest intentions towards Leah, but he is a ne’er-do-well. His father is rich, so he doesn’t have the money worries that would impel a poorer man. Most of the time he just takes his violin to parties and plays. He also dallies a bit with the Ozark lassies on the side. Unfortunately this doesn’t change when he marries Leah, so they have a few things to discuss about their relationship.
I’m not actually giving away any spoiler information here. This is all included on the back cover of the book. It’s also revealed that eventually Stuart gets into some trouble that leads to an all expenses paid trip to Tucker State Penitentiary, which puts some additional strain on Stuart and Leah’s marriage. The point of the book really is focused on Stuart’s conversion, not his relationship with Leah. The Glorious Prodigal, and, for that matter, all the House of Winslow books, follows a formula: virtuous Christian girl meets charming but troubled, unsaved young man, problems ensue, and eventually the man comes to know God and become a decent husband.
I suppose it’s good that the emphasis of the book – the heart of the story – is Stuart’s conversion, because the romance, both the original one and the reconciliation are not particularly well done. It’s difficult to fathom why they got together in the first place because through most of the book the characters of Stuart and Leah are fairly one-dimensional. We do get a little bit more of Stuart’s perspective as the book progresses because of course we have to find out his motivation for coming to believe in Jesus. But we never really get to know Leah. She stays undeveloped right to the end. We see her many moods and feelings: happy Leah, betrayed Leah, troubled Leah, enraged Leah, but that’s pretty much it.
The best part of the book for me was actually the part that, as a romance reader, should have been the least enjoyable: the long separation. I thought the prison segment was actually interesting, and Stuart’s conversion was fairly well done.
This book wasn’t all bad. It was just sort of average. It was fairly easy to read and would probably have been a straight C for me if the last 40 pages or so hadn’t been so emotionally manipulative and badly timed in terms of the book’s own chronology. The most important thing to happen in a romance is for the hero and the heroine to reconcile and work out any remaining problems. If there are problems or miscommunications with secondary or ancillary characters, these have to be dealt with first. The final bang has to involve the hero and heroine. But in this book the main characters hammer out their differences 40 pages before the end and the last bits are either out of order or completely unnecessary. There’s a grand finale court scene that I suppose was meant to bring tears to the reader’s eyes. Frankly, I felt manipulated and annoyed, and that’s it.
I can’t really say that I understand Gilbert Morris’s popularity. Like I said, he’s not horrible, but nothing in The Glorious Prodigal really excited me, and I can’t say I’m tempted to try him again. But I suppose if you like conversion stories, you might want to pick this one up.