Best-selling true crime writer Neil Devlin is on a cross-country motorcycle trip when his bike breaks down in rural Indiana near the small town of Loving. He takes it to the only mechanic in town where he first sees Anne Moore. Anne, who works as a secretary in the local bank, admires the attractive stranger but knows he is just passing through so sheíll never see him again.
The mechanic, however, has to order parts for Neilís motorcycle so Neil is forced to delay his trip. He takes a room in the only motel, which is owned by an eccentric woman, an avid fan of old movies. He uses the opportunity to pursue a further acquaintance with Anne.
Anne lives in a small cottage on her parentsí property. The tragic murder of her older sister has traumatized the entire family and led to Anneís living an extremely restricted life. Her physician father rarely interacts with anyone in the family, and her emotionally cold mother, who was from a socially prominent southern family before her marriage, has dominated Anneís life ever since.
Anneís brother, the local sheriff, is dating Anneís best friend, a slightly off-beat hat designer, of whom his mother strongly disapproves, and he is showing signs of becoming an alcoholic. The citizens of the small community have consciously protected Anne from any risk, and Anne herself has left the isolated area only once in her entire life. Her weekly date with Frank, her boring almost-boyfriend, has a cookie-cutter sameness week after week.
Neil deliberately misleads Anne as to his profession. Once he learns of her sisterís death, he is afraid to tell her the truth because he fears she may misconstrue his attentions. Neilís interest in Anne does not go unnoticed by the populace or by her mother. But in spite of her motherís active disapproval, Anne allows their relationship to develop. Will Neil eventually continue on his way, or will this be the chance she needs to experience life fully and to find love? Will her learning he is a well-known author ruin their chances for happiness?
Thereís not much passion to this story, and Iím not referring to the sexual type. The most lively -- and mildly humorous -- sections are accounts of the repressive Sunday dinners at the Mooresí where Anneís mother attempts to discourage her childrenís lovers. The rest of the book could benefit from an infusion of that spirit.
Although ostensibly a contemporary romance, Sleeping Beauty feels more as if it were set in the 1950's. This is the Hoosier version of Brigadoon. The small town is so quaint it seems completely removed from the present day. The conversation is squeaky clean, the sole entertainment is a vintage movie once every other weekend, and thereís not a single golden arch to be seen; they donít even seem to watch much TV. Neil likens it to Mayberry.
Anne is, of course, the title character. Although not actually sleeping like the fairy tale princess, she has lived an untouched, circumscribed life. Anneís isolation, however, is more than merely physical -- she is also emotionally isolated, cocooned in an over-protective environment. It is only the stranger in town who sees beyond her familyís history to the woman she is and awakens her at last.
Accepting the extent of Anneís isolation requires some doing. She is from a well-to-do family but has virtually no experiences beyond this one small town -- no sightseeing or shopping trips to the big city, no high school class trips, no college visits. She even wears the sweet pastel, scoop-necked, full-skirt dresses of an earlier era. (Are there still stores that carry those?) It all raises doubts whether Neil and Anne are ultimately meant for each other. Exposure to a wider world is inevitably going to affect her. Will their feelings change when she is no longer the wide-eyed innocent?
While I canít recommend this book to readers who expect contemporary romances to reflect current behavior and attitudes, readers who long for a simpler, more innocent age may find it more appealing.