A Convenient Wife

Maggie's Beau


Tanner Stakes His Claim

Oklahoma Sweetheart
by Carolyn Davidson
(Harl. Historical, $5.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-29380-1
Oh!–klahoma where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plains. And then whistles right through the empty heads of every single character in Oklahoma Sweetheart. They’re not really dumb so much as incomprehensible. Literally, cannot be comprehended; they behave in ways that are not only not explained for our edification, but are absolutely contrary to human nature as we know it.

Poor Loris Peterson has made a big mistake. Engaged to Connor Webster, she let his no-good brother James seduce her and now she's carrying his (James’) child. Since they're in small town Oklahoma in 1893, this is a really big mistake. Particularly when baby brother James decides he's not ready to be married yet and high-tails it out of town. Her parents kick her out of the house on a snowy night, and her request to Connor to honor the engagement has been met with a resounding “I don't think so.”

Loris heads out to the edge of town and finds an abandoned homestead, where she begins to make a cozy nest. In no time at all Connor joins her and they plant some crops, train some horses, wait for the baby to be born, and cope with the fact that neither set of parents is inclined to cut them any slack, even though they were once quite acceptable as betrotheds and they got married practically the very day they started playing house.

There. Minus the bizarre part about just how far one of the unhappy in-laws is willing to go to show her displeasure, the return of the prodigal brother, and the totally gratuitous violence and death, that’s the whole story in one paragraph. Unfortunately, this book takes 296 pages to tell a story that has about the same level of character development, insight, and exploration of human nature as that paragraph. Lots and lots of words on 296 pages; too bad some of those words weren’t used to explain the important stuff. Like why each and every character has at least one major change of mind/heart on a crucial matter, sometimes within mere pages, but without any visible reason.

And Oh! the detail, the suffocating detail, detail, detail in those 296 pages. At first you believe that if so much significance is given to one bit of information, that means that the detail is leading to something. Okay, you think, this is some heavy foreshadowing – we’re learning that spiders crawl into empty jars in a cellar and the best way to get them out is to rinse them out with water while holding on to the rim of the jar because…someone’s going to get bit by one of those spiders, right? Wrong. The spiders are washed down the drain without incident, and the reader is left thinking, “Duh. I knew how to get a spider out of a jar. Why am I reading this?” It’s like a bad high school essay, where you don’t have enough information to make it the length required, so you repeat yourself and throw in extraneous information to pad it out.

And, Oh! the inexplicable behavior. Why are Loris’ parents so spiteful and unforgiving, particularly as she is their only child? And what causes their change of heart? You keep leafing back through the pages, thinking, "surely I missed something…" but you never find it because you didn't miss it – it wasn't there.

And Oh! the behavior contrary to human nature – like Loris’ phenomenal bad judgment and Connor’s inexplicable forgiveness. Not only does she sleep with the no-good low-down brother (normal bad judgment), she compares how she feels about the two of them. To her new husband. On their wedding night. Out loud. While in bed. Naked. (Phenomenal bad judgment). But Connor's okay with it. He feels enriched by her words. Yes, enriched, not enraged.

And Oh! the clumsy, choppy, unedited feel of the text. Plowing through the writing was excruciating. I'm a big fan of punctuation, but this author never met a comma she wouldn't use. She tucks as many as six of them into one monumental sentence which, if I wrote like she did, this sentence would resemble, so that by the time you cleared the last comma and the bumpy syntax in the middle, you would need to double back to the beginning, just to remind yourself what, if anything, the sentence was about.

Oh! and never mind the fuzzy history – there wasn’t really an Oklahoma, per se, in 1893, and certainly not in 1874, when Loris was supposedly born into her parents’ farmhouse. There were the Indian Territories and the white squatters in No-Man’s land, but not any established towns like “Kent Corners.”

Oh!, do yourself a favor, listen to the Rodgers and Hammerstein soundtrack, which is also chock-full of detail, but at least the behavior of the characters make sense and no one dies unnecessarily.

--Laura Scott

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