The Runaway Bride
by Sandra Chastain, historical (1999)
Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-57584-8


I do emphatize with the heroine Annalise Sinclair in this book, I really do. Female doctors in 1868 had a tough time being taken seriously. However, everything she does in this book makes little sense to me.

Maybe I ought to get the storyline out first. Annalise, a doctor who is unable to perform her tasks due to her sex, is told by her father that it is high time she gets married, especially since the family is on the brink of financial disaster. Why not be a good girl and marry a rich man? At the other side of town, Daniel Miller's father is telling him the same story - the family's at the brink of disaster, so why not the dear boy marry a rich girl? Besides, his mother is ill and she does want to see some grandchildren before she passes into the world beyond.

These two people reluctantly agree to look out for potential spouses. On a New Year's Eve masquerade party, they meet, feel the sizzling passion between them, and Dan steals a kiss. Panicked, Annalise flees the party.

Annalise discovers then that her faithful maid is expecting a baby and the absent daddy has packed up and headed out West. She and the maid pack up too, tell her father she's off doing some harmless family visits, and go West. Dan also goes West, to build a railroad that will save his family fortunes. These two meet, Dan doesn't recognize Annalise (but she does he), they have this sizzling passion crackling between them, and someone is out to kill them all via some "accidents". Toss in a young thief, a bulky, gruff best buddy who has the eye for the pregnant maid, and we're all set to have high fun and adventure in the West.

Actually, not really. The author fails to take advantage of the excitement the plot can offer. I mean, there are locomotives, trade barons, and think of all the bank robbers and campy fun one can have in a setting like this. Yet what is served up is a rather ho-hum day-by-day account of these folks going from Point A to Point B and the mundane happenings in-between, spiced up with the usual accidents, bickering, stolen glances, and that naughty young thief getting into all sorts of troubles. Not very exciting really.

And I never can understand Annalise. I understand Dan's reluctance to marry - he has big plans to start his own life independent from his wealthy family, and these plans don't involve taking a wife at the moment. A clichéd notion, but understandable. But Annalise's vehemence to marriage? I don't get it. She says a man will stop her from her doctoring duties, but why is she so against having a tonsil-tennis session with Dan? She barely knows him, yet already she is sprouting a No man, no marriage mantra. A bit hasty, if you ask me. Also, why is a pretty young woman like Annalise so detached from the men in her circles until she barely knows any man that comes even close to capturing her fancy? Is 1868 New York City filled with ugly old toads? If the author is intending to go for the Pure Virgin Meets Hunk That Awakens Her Womanly Desires angle, it doesn't work here. Anyone seen Daniel Day Lewis in The Age Of Innocence? Tell me no man like that exists in 1868 NYC! You know, I end up thinking that maybe Annalise is a reclusive antisocial if she finds every man she meets disagreeable.

It doesn't help too that despite the claims of grand electrifying passion, Annalise and Dan generate minimum zing-zing-bing factor. They kiss, they kiss some more, and Annalise feels all a-quivering and fired up with desire, but then she would push him away, reasoning that Dan is a man and hence... what? Stifle her independence? I never know for sure why she is so against Dan. I don't know what she expects from him - marriage, affair? - hence her motivations for pushing him away is an enigma. And tell me if running off West to start a medical practice - with little money, and with a pregnant maid as the only companion - without telling her powerful father the act of an intelligent woman.

This book is an average read for me, I'm afraid. I don't feel as if I've wasted my time reading it, but then again, I don't feel as if I've gained anything pleasurable out of it. This book is just there. But there's a cute pig in it, if that's any consolation.

Rating: 63


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