Dove's Way
by Linda Francis Lee, historical (2000)
Ivy, $6.50, ISBN 0-449-00205-5


Dove's Way is the name given to the hero Matthew Hawthorne's house. He has painted the ceiling of the house himself, depicting a warrior holding a white dove which has returned to him at last. A wonderful, magical scene that simply sings with romantic poetry. And there are a few scenes that are just as magical in this story. It's just too bad I have to wade through melodrama and soap opera - bad soap opera - to get there.

Finnea Winslet has been living in Africa all her life. Time is at the brink of the 20th century, and our heroine is poised to start life anew with the mother and brother she has never known in Boston. But first, she needs a guide to escort her out of Congo. The guide is Matthew Hawthorne, a scarred man with inner demons. They bicker in a train, the train derails, and they spend a few quiet moments together with he comforting badly injured Finnea. When help comes, they part ways.

Months later, they meet again in Boston. This time Finnea is trying her best to adjust to her new environment, but it's obvious to Matthew that the snobs would not accept her. They strike a bargain - he will teach her to fit in. But things happen, they end up married, and I start to lose interest.

DW starts out a potential keeper, for the author writes wonderfully, nay, magically. But someone should have told her that a good romance does not mean she has to pile depression upon dysfunction to the point of overkill. Case in point?

Let's start with Michael. In this novel, among his inner pain include: his scarred face, his failing health, his loss of his position as his father's favorite, his loss of his beauty, his loss of his friends, his cheating dead wife, his daughter who is afraid of him, his distrust of women, his feel of unworthiness for Finnea... And Finnea starts out fine and spunky. Ms Lee succeeds in potraying her bewilderment and confusion in a society where unwritten rules are often the harshest, and I feel for her. And the fact that she never lets the snobs get her down is a great, great plus. Until she got married, that is (and it's not even halfway through the story).

Out of the blue the author reveals that Finnea has lost a daughter before, and oh! She feels unworthy of Michael's daughter Mary, so - you guess it - she pushes them away. And she has lots of baggage too. She wants her mother and brother's approval, she wants to prove them that her father is not a savage, she wants to love, and yes, that dead daughter thing.

Just when Dilemma #1 is resolved, the author pulls Dilemma #2 out of the blue. I'm not amused. It's one thing to root for lonely people trapped in a world that don't understand them. But when these people start whipping themselves bloody over deluded sense of self-pity and unworthiness, they cross the line from being sympathetic to being downright pathetic. By page 250, I no longer care or even bother with the two main characters anymore. Let them bicker, sulk, and indulge in Big Misunderstandings for all I care.

And the main foundations of the story is bloated with more melodrama than a three-hour Wagnerian operatic opus. Let's start with the most hilarious one - Michael's discovery of his Cheating Wife's playtime with his - you guessed it - best buddy. Wifey and Best Bud are actually getting it on during a house party, of all things. And with full knowledge of all Michael's friends and the society matrons! And when Michael catches them in the act, they fight. I don't think Best Bud has any time to put his clothes on. Wifey screams, the cottage that is the two adulterers' Holiday Inn catches fire, and Kaboom! Which brings all the party-goers to the scene...

That's the scandal that drives Matthew away, scarred, to Africa. Me, I still can't stop laughing at the cartoony drama of that moment. Oh boy.

Another scene that comes straight out of Melodrama 101 is children throwing stones at Matthew. Really! The author says that Matthew has broad shoulders and great butt. It's not as if he's Quasimodo's more depressed twin. You can't have it both ways, dear, if you want to depict a Beast, you have to go all the way to depict a Beast instead of wimping out and saying, "Okay, actually, he's not that ugly, but ugly enough to have kids throwing stones at him, but not to the extent that the heroine (and presumably me, the reader) would recoil in horror." Beauty's deeper than skin, not that this book would tell me.

There's not one good person in Boston. Finnea's brother is nasty and stupid, her mother is one brown and dull cow, the society women are stupid and insulting, their men are stupid and condescending, and Matthew shouts Eat and bangs his fists on dinner tables. Oh, and in Africa, everyone's a Noble Negro with Heart, even the Masai.

Paradoxically, Ms Lee demonstrates that she can create wonderfully poignant and tortured characters, and I will watch out for the next in the series (everyone's doing series nowadays - I wonder why). But in DW - to paraphase Beavis and Butthead - she lost it, man. She totally lost it. The plot, that is. Prozac, anyone?

Rating: 72


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