Fall From Grace

The Gentleman Caller

The Way Home

A Season in Eden by Megan Chance
(Harper, $5.99, G) ISBN 0-06-108705-X
Several years ago, I gave Megan Chance's Fall From Grace a reluctant 2-heart rating. I loved the way she wrote but hated the plot and the less than sympathetic characters. I knew, however, that I'd be back to check her out again, and I'm glad that I did. I've seen the light -- Megan Chance is an author to cherish. This exquisitely beautiful, heart-wrenching book should not be missed.

At the age of 20, Lora Cameron feels as if her life is already over. She and her husband, Eli, had such high hopes four years ago when they moved to the prairie near Yakima, Washington, and started a produce farm. But a hard winter, a scorching summer, and a tragic loss have sapped all of the joy and life out of Lora. She and Eli barely speak, and their debts are mounting. In desperation, Eli decides to take a temporary logging job hundreds of miles away to give Lora the space she seems to need and to earn some money. Before he leaves, he hires on Will Bennett, a 17-year-old drifter, as a hired hand.

Will is not like any man Lora has ever met. He comes from a family of free thinkers and wanders the country experiencing anything and everything that life has to offer. He speaks of a utopian society where everyone is free and equal, and he actually makes dinner for Lora!

One thing I've learned about Megan Chance is that the reader should expect the unexpected. If this were a typical romance novel, Eli would be a mean or weak character, and Lora and Will would fall in love. But things aren't so black and white in Megan Chance's world. Will does change Lora's life, but not as a lover. When Eli returns sooner than planned, a complex triangle forms.

The novel is partially a love story of a wife and husband finding their way back to each other. But A Season in Eden is also Lora's personal story of overcoming grief and learning to hope again. The tragedy that shattered her dreams is gradually revealed, so that the reader has some idea of what has caused her anguish. But even so, the final disclosure of the moment of loss is shocking. The way she chooses to work through her grief is utterly appropriate and poignant.

Writing a first-person narrative from the point of view of a poorly educated, late 19th century woman must have been a challenge to a writer who usually has such a lyrical style, but Chance manages to make Lora's voice sound authentic and beautiful at the same time. The misspelled letters that Lora and Eli exchange throughout the middle portion of the book provide a touch of historical accuracy.

A Season in Eden isn't always an easy read. Much of it is trial heaped upon tragedy, and the ending is tentatively hopeful at best rather than joyous. But if you like emotional, realistic, historical fiction that will grab you by the heart, then you need to read this book. The only person who might not be happy about this release is my editor, Dede Anderson. She's going to have to wait a while for my next review of a new book. I'll be busy tracking down and re-reading Megan Chance's backlist.

--Susan Scribner

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