And here it is! The ending of the book, at last! Clark returns from tending the horses, and he, Marty, and Missie go to the hotel dining room. But no one is in the mood to eat. They only pick over their food before heading to a room. And here, readers, things start to come to a head.
Marty puts Missie to bed on a cot in the room, and then looks at Clark, who had set himself in an arm chair, exhausted. She has feelings.
What could she say to this man who sat before her? This man who comforted her when she sorrowed, understood her joys, gave her strength when her own strength was spent, shared with her his faith, and introduced her to his God. There was so much she felt. This strange, deep stirring within her—she understood it now. It was a longing for this man, his love. She wanted him; she knew that now. But how … how could she tell him?
I’ve been reading this book on Kindle during this review series, and this is one of those bits that my reader tells me has been highlighted by numerous readers. The moment where Marty looks at Clark and suddenly thinks of everything they’ve been through together, everything this man has given of himself for her, Missie, and Clare.
But she still can’t figure out how to say any of this. She and Clark have figured out how to live together, but they still haven’t figured out how to communicate. There’s the fact that Clark hasn’t checked in with Marty about her decision since March—when he told her he’d make sure there was money for her fare—even as wagon trains have started heading back east.
There’s a lot here that would make more sense if we knew more about these characters—where they’re from, what their background is like, what makes them tick. This is the mid-eighteenth century. The idea that people should marry for love was still fairly new. Plenty of people still married for completely practical reasons. In this context, what’s odd is that Marty thought heading back east made sense, after marrying Clark.
Where did Marty’s strong belief in love matches come from? Was Marty an avid reader of early romance novels encouraging readers to seek love matches? Were Jane Austin novels read in the U.S. (or Canada) at this time? Louisa May Alcott was at the very beginning of her career, but surely she had American (or Canadian) precursors? Marty was clearly attached to the idea of marrying for love, but we’re never told why. Perhaps her parents married for practical reasons only, and were profoundly unhappy?
We aren’t told anything about her background.
Here’s another idea—what if Marty had been pursued by two men, back east, and chosen Clem? She might have been eager to head back east to see if she could reconnect with her other suitor. Sure, this seems a little heartless—it’s a quick turnaround on Clem—but it would at least give us a reason for her desire to return east. As it is, she never talks about missing her parents, or friends. And we could have seen Marty comparing Clark with Charles, or Caleb, her old suitor back east who might still be interested.
This is what most frustrates me about this book—we learn almost no backstory. Ever. True, a few characters do get a backstory, but it’s oddly random and somewhat targeted. Ma’s backstory exists to solely broaden Marty’s understanding of love, and how it happens. Wanda’s backstory exists to explain why she is such a bitter, unhappy person—and to give Marty a moment to wax poetic about the beauty of the west. Laura has something of a backstory—her feelings of being second to her sister—and that serves to explain her choices, and ultimately, her demise.
But Marty doesn’t have a backstory. And nor does Clark.
So, Clark announces that he’s going to go sleep at the doctor’s office, in case Clare wakes up. It’s pretty clear he’s really leaving because there’s only one bed and he doesn’t want Marty to be uncomfortable.
And here we come to the pivotal moment.
He turned to go, but she knew she mustn’t let him. If he went now without knowing…
Still her voice would not obey her command. She reached out and took his sleeve. He turned to her. She could only look at him, imploring him to read in her eyes what she could not say with her lips.
He looked into her face searchingly; then he stepped closer and his hands went to her shoulders, drawing her toward him.
He must have read there what she wanted him to see, but still he hesitated a moment.
“Ya bein’ sure?” he asked quietly.
She nodded her head, looking deep into his eyes, and then she was in his arms, being held the way she ached to be held, feeling the strength of his body tight against her, raising trembling lips to his.
I mean … okay.
There is a serious lack of actual communication going on here. It would be easy for Marty to think Clark understood what she meant to communicate, when actually he thought she meant something else entirely. But really, this is standard romance novel fare. That’s not an excuse for it, but it certainly is an explanation. This is a romance novel, with some Christian slapped on.
So here we are, at the end. The two embrace, and the book ends. They have found happiness. For them, love came softly. And here I am, too. Even more than the absence of any background information for the book’s most central characters, it is the Laura plot line that bothers me.
Someone asked earlier what the point of the Laura plot line was. As far as I can tell, there was no point. Laura did a bad thing. Laura died. The end. Being more generous, it’s possible that Laura’s death changed Ma—likely, even. We just don’t have the chance to actually see it. Laura’s death would almost certainly strongly affect Sally Anne, too, but we don’t see that either. Maybe Marty was impressed at Clark’s bravado, rushing off to confront Milt—but we’re not told she was, and really, all Clark did was facilitate Milt’s escape, after he murdered his young wife.
You know, though, the Laura plot line did do at least one thing. It provided me with a strong, almost visceral dislike of nearly every character in this book. It changed the entire tone and tenor of the book, for me. It took a romance novel that was somewhat silly, often forced, and definitely not as historical as it claimed to be, and turned it into a dark, horrifying dystopia.
I originally saw Ma as a kindly matriarch who bustles around helping people and making them feel welcome. After the Laura plot line, I wanted nothing to do with Ma. Or Clark. Even Marty seemed bizarrely self-absorbed and out-of-touch. The only person in the entire situation that I didn’t see as highly culpable was Ben Graham, and that only because the only thing we ever really see him do is set out to kill his daughter’s murderer.
Storylines are supposed to matter. One thing people often praised about Game of Thrones was that actions had consequences. When bad things happened, you could usually trace them back to something someone had done. Things people did meant something.
One possible consequence, here, would be Ben Graham setting out to find where Milt went and kill him. Laura was his oldest child, his first child with his first wife. He might determine that to make up for failing her in life, he was going to settle the score after her death. Ben would leave, no one knowing when he might return. Clark might regret running Milt out of town before Ben got to him, but too late. Ma might regret, again, the favors she showed Sally Anne, but too late.
But no, nothing like this happens. There are no longterm consequences for the way the community failed Laura. Laura is just … gone. And live moves on.
You know what’s odd? I didn’t remember the Laura plot line until I reread the book before I started this review series. I had completely forgotten about it. I remembered the corn down the bodice, and the button. I even remembered the barn burning down. I remembered the pancakes and the bibs and the bundles of cloth Clark brought Marty from town. But I forgot about Laura.
And so did everyone else.
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