Shotgun Wedding, by Maggie Osborne

17 Aug

Shotgun Wedding by Maggie Osborne

Even 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 Librarian Wendy has talked about loving most of what Ms Osborne has written1 and…well, when I saw a copy of Shotgun Wedding at the USB last week, I just couldn’t resist it.

Set in the late 1800s or very early 1900s, the novel details events occurring during the few months between late Spring and early Fall in the small Kansas town of Marshall.

Here’s the back cover blurb:

Annie Malloy is in a fix. She’s gotten herself into the worst kind of trouble, and there’s really only one way out. It seems the town’s handsome new sheriff, Jesse Harden, has taken a shine to her—and has offered her a way to end the scandal once and for all. But Annie soon finds that the quiet life she once lived has been exchanged for one full of chance, desire, and the breathtaking possibility of true love.

Jesse John Harden has always followed his instincts and has no doubt that he can turn this marriage of convenience into a true marriage of the heart. With each day that passes the bond between him and his pretty new wife grows stronger and the spark between them gets hotter. But Annie is hiding a secret that could destroy their delicate happiness. Now Jesse must convince Annie to let him stand beside her to face the past so they can have a chance at a happy future.

The first thing that struck me as I began to read the novel was that once again Ms Osborne’s writing drew me into the story so deeply that I couldn’t stop reading—even when at times I wanted to.

As the novel starts, we learn that Annie Malloy has been having an affair with a rather not-desirable sort of man and that she finds herself pregnant. He offers her marriage, but since he’s a bank robber, she realizes that she can’t marry him.

Which leaves her in a rather difficult position.

See, Annie Malloy is twenty five years old, a spinster, only child of one of the premiere citizens of Marshall. She’s well read, rather opinionated, independent in her actions and thinking—and pregnant and unwed in a small town, without personal means to support herself.

After several weeks of outright denial, and once it’s evident even to Annie that the pregnancy will not disappear like a bad dream, she is forced to tell her parents. Her life as she has known it starts to truly unravel at this point: her father, who has indulged her outrageously all her life, slaps her face—twice—demanding to know the name of the blackguard who impregnated his daughter. When Annie refuses to reveal the identity of her lover, her father banishes her from his presence. Her mother, who has to this point allowed Annie a level of independence most single ladies wouldn’t achieve until well past middle age, can’t forgive Annie’s abuse of her trust—nor the damage the scandal will cause the family’s social standing.

Everything in Annie’s life starts to crumble once word of her pregnancy starts, inevitably, to spread around town: from her erstwhile friends at the Modern Woman Association to the library’s book club, neither Annie nor her family are welcome anymore, even before the pregnancy shows. Once it does, social ruin starts to veer into shunning, and Annie’s misery seems complete.

All, however, is not lost, because the town’s sheriff has been showing interest in Annie for a while—and things definitely look up for her when he offers her marriage.

Jess Harden is a total dream of a man, and I love Ms Osborne for not making him two-dimensional. Jess is handsome, honest, decent, hard-working and considerate, but at no time does the reader feel that he’s too good to be true. From the beginning, his reasons for accepting Annie’s pregnancy and offering to love her child as if it were his own ring true. His relationship with Ione, his mother, is loving and close without being cloying or smothering (on either side).

As the story starts, the reader sees Jess as an adult, grown man, sure of himself, his opinions and his life, but at the same time he’s self-aware enough to indulge in introspection regarding his attraction to Annie and the potential for a reasonably happy future for the two of them, considering her pregnancy, her refusal to name the father, and the scandal of their ‘shotgun’ wedding.

There are a number of secondary characters in the story who, in their own way, have an impact on both Jess and Annie, and in their developing relationship. Ione, Jess’ mother, is the embodiment of many of Annie’s notions of what a New Modern Woman should be, without being shrill, bitter, or so independent as to cross the line into stupid. This is a woman who owns her mistakes with the same heart as her triumphs, who knows her own mind and heart, but who isn’t so set in her ways as to be incapable of bending.

Annie’s parents, Ellen and Harry Malloy, are also engaging in their own way—those two slaps notwithstanding. Their reaction to Annie’s pregnancy is not only motivated by the damage to their social standing, but also by the sense of betrayal they feel: they trusted Annie, they allowed her an, at the time, unheard-of independence. They love her, have always wanted the best for her—even when what she wanted flew right in the face of what they wanted, such as her marrying and giving them legitimate grandchildren—and her betrayal of that trust and that love is all the more painful for it.

Interestingly, another well-developed character is the villain of the piece (aka, the father of Annie’s baby). As the novel starts, Bodie Miller is portrayed as your typical too-handsome-for-his-own-good, ne’er-do-well man. He is selfish to the bone, and while he’s willing to ‘do right by’ Annie by marrying her, he is adamant about not letting any ‘skirt’ dictate how he’ll live his life: she either marries him as he is, or she can go have ‘her bastard’ by herself. When Annie marries Jess instead, Bodie’s already twisted perception of honor, reality and ‘the right thing,’ compounded by the knowledge that if the law got its hands on him he’d hang, slides into an accelerating spiral into madness.

At the same time that I applauded having a three-dimensional villain for a change, I had to stop and ponder why so much time was devoted to Bodie, and my sad conclusion is that this was the only way Ms Osborne could find to justify, at least to some degree, Annie’s actions, reactions and decisions throughout the novel.

The premise of this novel is excellent and Ms Osborne delivers on many levels, but I just couldn’t get past the fact that Annie annoys the hell out of me. Honestly, she does. There is this see-sawing she does, when one moment she seems finally grown up, then the next she goes back to being childish, spoiled, and—much worse—stupid1. It boils down to this: I am having a very difficult time believing that any woman in her circumstances wouldn’t have understood the consequences to her family—let alone herself and the child—once she turned up pregnant out of wedlock.

Therefore, it is with great regret that I give Shotgun Wedding a 6.75 out of 10

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1 Coincidentally, I agree quite a bit with SLWendy’s assessment of Annie: she’s not quite too stupid to live, but she is stupid, and when she does stop to think, she doesn’t seem able to see beyond the surface of things, events or people.

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