Few faith fiction authors can boast the loyal following that the award-winning novelist Dee Henderson has garnered. Her "O'Malley" series and "Uncommon Heroes" series have catapulted her to the top of Christian fiction lists year after year. It seems fitting that Steeple Hill Books has re-released THE MARRIAGE WISH, Henderson's first-ever foray into fiction from 1998.
Henderson fans have come to anticipate the special blend of sweet romance, strong faith themes, and light suspense that she delivers --- and all are here in generous amounts. Thirty-eight-year-old Scott Williams has fallen desperately in love with a woman, Jennifer St. James, who he has met on the beach. But the distraught author has loved before, and the excruciating pain she feels from her past seems destined to keep her from ever opening her heart to romance again.
Patiently, Scott helps Jennifer grieve her past losses and move to a place of more security and peace. Even her anger at God begins to dissipate under Scott's gentle compassion and solid faith. Yet Jennifer's fears continue to haunt her, and Scott finds that they may cost him his own most cherished dreams.
Like many of Henderson's female characters, Jennifer is an appealing blend of vulnerability and toughness. She's a pool shark who carries her own cue in a case and can run the table on a bet, whether it's with the troubled foster kid at the local youth group who needs an adult he can respect, or the cops who rack up the balls at the pool joint down the street. Her idea of a good time is to watch Monday night football in her trademark quirky socks with her male relatives, caramel popcorn close at hand. At the same time, Scott has his own unexpected talents. He's an electronics company CEO who has a penchant for cooking, and indeed, the details about the snacks and meals the characters eat will send many readers straight to the refrigerator.
Henderson is adept at slowly letting Jennifer's past come to light, and the tension carefully parceled out in measured doses keeps the pages turning. She also uses flashbacks well, letting Jennifer remember scenes from her past, which help fill in some missing pieces for the reader. The end of the book holds its own surprises, which delight and satisfy.
Fans of Henderson's current novels will read this early work and appreciate how her writing has evolved and become more polished. Some awkward descriptions ("her gut clenched," "he had seen memories cross her eyes") are the kind that a first novelist would make, and it is a mark of her talent that these are few. The dialogue can also become a bit stiff in spots (contractions might have helped). But she resists the urge that so many first-time writers have to over-explain scenes, and her fresh characterizations are compelling. Especially noteworthy are some nice relationships between adult siblings, and adults and their younger nieces and nephews. Henderson knows how to create fun, loving, extended families of faith that any reader will instantly warm to.
It's these fresh characterizations that make us care about the characters and what happens to them, and keep Henderson at the top of bestseller lists today. Henderson fans will find this a must-buy book for their fiction collections, and romance aficionados will quickly find themselves hooked and will want to check out her other titles.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on March 1, 2005