Silver Lining
by Maggie Osborne, historical (2000)
Ivy, $6.50, ISBN 0-449-00516-X


Actually I have a lot of thoughts about this book, and I guess I'd most probably be flooding this review with spoilers left and right. You know what to do if you don't want to trouble yourself writing emails to me afterwards.

First off, the plot. Max McCord's a wealthy man who's going to marry socialite Philadelphia Houser and work for her father in the bank in two months time. Louise Down or Low Down is a prospector who seeks her fortune by moving from town to town. When Low Down helps - or rather, bullies - the pox-stricken population of Piney Creek to good health, the menfolk offers Louise anything she wants. She wants a baby. Uh oh.

The men who are unmarried draw lots, and Max gets the marble with the X. Uh oh.

Out of duty, Max marries Low Down and brings her back to his family who accepts her with initial cordiality. Mrs McCord is a woman who knows that McCords always honor their promises after all. Just when Max goes to glumly break off his engagement with Philadelphia, Philadelphia drops a biggie on Max: she's pregnant with Max's baby.

Welcome to Silver Lining, a book with a plot so tangled that I am practically hooting in delight. I can't wait to see how the author would untangle this mess of obligation vs heart's desire. Hence, I am more disappointed than I normally would when the author does a low one: she shifts the blame all onto the other woman, Philadelphia, thus paving the way for Low Down and Max's happy ending. Tad too covenient and absolutely unworthy of a talented author like Ms Osborne - hence my disappointment. Ms Osborne has created a richly complicated plot only to delve into a bag of cliches for the finale.

This book is interesting too, because of the moral dilemma faced by Max - duty or desire? But I must admit I find these sort of rigid principles tad too alien for me, really. Low Down is a great heroine and I absolutely love the way she slowly gains her dignity. Sure, she cleans up and end up glorious and beautiful, et cetera, but to me, it's how she finds her pride and self-worth that counts the most. This woman finds a warm family and an ability to love freely and generously. Now that's indeed a happy ending.

It's only... well, this book is yet another book where the women stand proud and united and strong and the men carry the pom-poms. Max can't even carry a pom-pom well enough - his role in this story is more of an observer, a sulky man who wants the cake and eat it too, and doesn't know what to do when he can't have both. The wall dividing Low Down and Max is high enough, and he has to add a few bricks of his own in his stubborn adamance that Philadelphia is the woman he wants.

When he finally does a turnabout and tells Low Down at the last few pages that she's the one he loved all along, I snort. Does Max really know what he want? I doubt that, judging from wishy-washiness he displays throughtout the story. Max isn't a strong or memorable hero, he isn't even able to carry out a decision without faltering and doubting.

Then there's Philadelphia, the unfortunate victim to the Evil Other Woman stereotype. Does anyone ever think of the implications on Max's already water-thin hero material that he should actually find this woman attractive enough to actually do the yazoo with? Hero + Evil Other Woman = Hero With No Substance Or Good Taste. And when the author takes the pain to paint every character but Philadelphia three-dimensional, I can't help to think Plot Convenience each time I look at Philadelphia.

If the author didn't do a cop-out and turn Philadelphia into the villian, thus absolving Max of the blame for sleeping with a woman out of wedlock, I would find this book a keeper. As it is, I love SL for Low Down, truly a great heroine. Too bad the hero never measures up. Low Down, what did you see in Max?

Rating: 76


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