Summers End

 
Please Remember This
by Kathleen Gilles Seidel
(Avon, $6.99, G) ISBN 0-06-101387-0
****
Tired of the same-old Navy SEALs, ditsy heiresses and cowboys? Try the newest offering from Kathleen Gilles Seidel. Despite the prosaic title, Please Remember This features a rich, unique plot and thoughtful writing. It only misses greatness by a hair because of the lack of passion between the hero and heroine.

Tess Lanier was born in the small Kansas town of Fleur-de-lis but spent her childhood in California with her grandparents when her mother, Nina Lane, committed suicide. It was tough enough knowing that her mother had killed herself, but Tess also had to cope with the fact that Nina Lane was a cult figure, the author of a fantasy trilogy whose popularity had spawned legions of obsessive fans. After a disastrous collegiate love affair with a boyfriend who saw her only as Nina Laneís daughter, Tess vowed to totally separate herself from her wildly creative but mentally unstable mother. But now, at age 24, an unexpected financial windfall gives Tess options she never expected. She decides to move back to Fleur-de-lis and open a small business. Sheís determined to find herself, even in the direct shadow of her motherís legacy.

Fleur-de-lis has changed in the 25 years since Nina Lane lived in a commune-type setting while writing her magnum epic. The downtown stores have been forced out of business by a new Kmart, and farming is no longer a viable option. Phil Ravenal, aspiring local politician, has an ambitious plan to save the town that relies on the success of his dreamer brother, Ned. In 1857, the steamboat Western Settler sank near Fleur-de-lis while on a journey up the Missouri River from St. Louis. All of the passengers survived, but the boat and all of its cargo were lost. Over time, the river shifted, leaving the boat preserved under what is now a cornfield. Since his childhood, Ned has dreamt of digging up the remains of the Settler and discovering the lost artifacts of the 19th century. Phil believes that Nedís task could turn Fleur-de-lis into a major tourist attraction, and he is eager to encourage the growth of new small businesses, such as Tessí proposed coffee shop, to cater to the anticipated visitors.

Nina Lane had also been fascinated by the Western Settler, and began a book about it before her untimely death. What was the factor behind Ninaís interest in the boat? What treasures will Ned unearth and what clues might they give him about the event that changed Fleur-de-lisí destiny? What will Tess learn about herself as she explores the truth about her mother, her father, and the strange woman named Sierra Celandine who was present at Tessí birth? And is there a place for Tess alongside practical, organized Phil or the charming but idealistic Ned?

Starting with the first chapter, as a wide-eyed Tess takes in her first Nina Lane Annual Birthday Celebration (part rock festival, part Star Trek convention and part plain old down-home country fair without the baby pigs and homemade jams), Seidel hooks the reader and doesnít let go until the final page. She explores a variety of topics, including family relationships, the economic transformation of Middle America, the pros and cons of small towns, and the dangers of cult worshipping popular authors. Tessí desire to find her true self is poignantly related to all of these themes. Pleasant but emotionally reserved after years of living with her elderly grandparents, Tess doesnít open up easily. Seidelís style is similarly understated, but itís not devoid of emotion - you just have to read between the lines to find it.

Unfortunately, Seidelís unpretentious writing style fails to engage the reader in the novelís romance. Tessí choice between Ravenal brothers has little suspense, and the love story that develops is subdued and strangely passionless. Like any good Midwesterner, I know that discretion is the better part of valor, but I wanted to see a little bit more fire between Tess and her beloved.

Despite the tepid romance, Please Remember This remains a fascinating character study as well as a mind-boggling look at the logistics involved in Nedís excavation of the Western Settler. His work is even more impressive considering it is based on the 1988 real-life excavation of the steamship Arabia from a Kansas cornfield. There arenít many romance novels around that educate readers as well as they entertain, but then Kathleen Gilles Seidel is like no other author. For something completely different, pick up Please Remember This - unlike so many other romances, it wonít be forgotten the day after it is finished.

--Susan Scribner


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