Silver Lining, by Maggie Osborne

21 Feb

Silver Lining, by Maggie Osborne

Breaking with custom, I am not going to quote the back cover copy, because it misleads the reader into thinking that this is yet another syrupy and poorly written *gasp* romance novel *shudder* The horror!

I much prefer quoting this book description from Amazon:

When a group of grateful prospectors offers to give fellow prospector Low Down her “fondest wish” in return for her nursing them through a smallpox epidemic, they are stunned when she says she wants a baby. What she gets, however, is a husband she doesn’t want, a husband who doesn’t want her, and a family—and eventually a love—she never even dreamed of. Funny and touching, this riveting romance, in classic Osborne fashion, takes an outwardly independent but inwardly fragile heroine, pairs her with a hero smart enough to realize her worth, and lets them find each other despite a host of almost insurmountable obstacles.

Yes, this is a romance novel. Many a reader would be tempted to summarize such books thus: Boy meets girl. Things happen. They fall in love. They live happily ever after. In the strictest sense, this is true. But then, one could also summarize Hamlet like this: Boy whines. Boy whines. Villains conspire. Boy whines. Girl kills herself. Boy whines. Everybody dies. (You don’t agree?—I’m being generous, check this version out!)

Set in Colorado in the late 1800s, Silver Lining follows Louise “Low Down” Downe and her reluctant husband, Max McCord, from a mining camp in the Rocky Mountains to a ranch in the Colorado plains. The plot is relatively simple, with only a couple of twists—which I’ll leave to the curious reader to discover—but as with any good writing, it’s the execution that makes this book memorable. The characters and their circumstances truly come to life, they are so vividly drawn.

Low Down is an amazingly well realized character. She’s self reliant, generous, strong, intelligent, resourceful… and completely unaware of any positive qualities she may possess. An orphan, she’s survived in a world more wild than civilized by becoming more man than woman—in language, demeanor, and thought. In her own words:

“I’m not a very cordial type,” she admitted, thinking it over. A person who strewed roses usually stepped on thorns. She’d learned that lesson years ago. It was better to let people know right fast that she gave as good as she got. This wasn’t exactly a cordial attitude.

And later on,

“I’m mean and selfish. I’m cantankerous, stubborn and willful. So don’t go hanging any halos on me. (…) Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost. Those are words to live by, and I do. But once, (…) I did a good thing. And I’m proud of that.”

“One good thing.” Having had ‘the pox’ as a child, she’s the only one willing to feed, medicate, clean and, literally, will several dozen men to live. What most would call heroic she considers “one good thing.” The reader could be tempted to find such generosity of spirit annoying if the character weren’t as rounded, as flawed, as human as Louise is; she’s also ornery, bristly, insecure, and wonderfully loud. And so, her reactions to Max’s perceived wealth and to his family ring true, as do her efforts to fit in without losing herself.

The other main player is the unwilling groom. The eldest of three in a well-to-do family, Max McCord has never wanted for anything, and his life has always followed a fairly even path. His summer in the mountains prospecting for gold was supposed to be a last fling before settling down with the perfect bride who’s waiting for him, but now everything has been derailed. However, this man is no weakling, and while he does indulge in a few moments of self pity at all that he’s lost, he ultimately chooses to make the best out of what seems an impossible situation—and not just for him. His sudden marriage has embarrassed his family and created a crisis with repercussions he could not have imagined. Time passes, events unfold, and Max learns to view his life, his family, himself, and especially his wife, in an entirely different light.

The secondary characters are generally less developed, and some perhaps more sketched than truly realized; this is particularly true of Max’s sister, for example. And yet, despite this, they are effectively written to fulfill their roles in the story. His ex-fiancé and her father, Max’s brother, his mother, his sister and her husband, even Max’s ranch hands—they are all affected, and their lives changed, by Max’s marriage and by Louise herself.

I am no expert on the period, but the setting and background details feel right and seem consistent with what little I do know. The dialogue is often funny and always natural—you can hear these people talking this way.

I love this book. Okay, let me be more specific. I positively adore the first 330 or so pages of this book. It’s the last ten or so I take issue with.

You see, Max and Louise have managed to navigate their way through emotional betrayal, personal insecurities, and physical hardships, growing closer together in a manner that feels true to life. All of a sudden, with less than ten pages left, there’s a big misunderstanding, a dramatic chase, and a four paragraph resolution leading to the happy ever after. At which point, I scratch my head wondering, What on earth..?

After such a wonderful journey, this last episode leaves me wondering why it was even written. Yes, there needed to be some closure to a couple of previous story threads, but this ending seems more than a bit contrived. I wish the author had seen fit to go for something subtler, more in tune with the rest of the book.

Yet even with that irritant, the writing is so wonderful that this remains one of my favorite books ever.

This one gets a full 100.

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One Response to “Silver Lining, by Maggie Osborne”

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  1. Shotgun Wedding, by Maggie Osborne « Her Hands, My Hands - 08/01/2012

    […] though I love Ms Osborne’s Silver Lining (review here), I had not sought out any of her other novels—I’m not exactly sure why. However, Super […]

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