One of the earliest entrepreneurs in the Washington Territory was Asa Mercer. He recognized that there was a need that he could fill and make a tidy profit in the bargain. In the East, more than 360,000 people lost their lives during the Civil War, leaving behind numerous widows and orphans. In the West, there were many men of all ages who wanted wives and families. Mercer devised a way to collect fees from both by assuring perfect match-ups for all parties.
The bachelors responded to an advertisement for a wife; $300 would secure a “bride of good reputation and moral character.” The women responded to an advertisement that promised “positions as domestics, teachers or nannies.” So, when Anna Ivey signed her contract with Joe Denton, she thought she was going to be his cook and he thought she was going to be his bride. The premise is a good one, and Deeanne Gist handles it with a flair for irony and good humor. Oh, sparks fly when the two discover that they are at cross purposes, but there is none of the mean-spirited interaction found in too much of current fiction.
Anna does not want any part of marriage with anyone…no matter how rich, handsome, kind or persuasive he might be. Joe is desperate for a wife because he stands to lose half of his 640-acre grant if he doesn’t have one. He had one 11 years ago when he got the grant, but Lorraine passed away before she was able to join him on the homestead. So now he has to devise a way to win Anna over in order to save the land and the lumber business he has worked so hard to develop.
Needless to say to any reader of romance novels, there comes a point when the reader is ready to throttle both female and male; to shake them soundly and shout, “Just get over it! You love each other! Stop being so stubborn!” In this case, it is mostly Anna’s guilt over the loss of her family that is preventing her from getting too close to anyone. She feels that, if she does, she’ll somehow cause them to die.
This false guilt was placed on her by well-meaning family members like her father, who told her that if she fought with her little brother God would not protect him from the Rebel bullets. So she took it one step further and blamed herself for the death of her entire family. This is such a huge load for a 19-year-old to carry, and I thank Deanne Gist for bringing to light the damage people do when they say thoughtless things to others in an effort to control their behaviors or emotions. If a child is told that God wanted your mommy with Him in Heaven, how will that child grow up feeling toward God?
A BRIDE IN THE BARGAIN contains enough historical insight, captivating scenes of Washington’s natural beauty, humor, excitement and pathos to satisfy the pickiest of readers. And, all the while, the book stays within the cultural and moral boundaries of people who put their faith and trust in the ultimate love of God.
Reviewed by Maggie Harding on November 13, 2011