Wild Oats, by Pamela Morsi

>> Monday, August 06, 2007

TITLE: Wild Oats
AUTHOR: Pamela Morsi

PAGES: 318

SETTING: Small town of Dead Dog, in the Oklahoma territory. I'm not 100% sure of the date, but the characters mention the prospect of statehood, and I see in wikipedia that Oklahoma became a state in 1907. So let's say early 20th century.
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: Followed by Runabout.

REASON FOR READING: I found it when I was rearranging my shelves and decided to reread it. I actually read it immediately after Something Shady, but I'd forgotten I hadn't done a review for it.

The last thing Cora Briggs expected was to see a fine young man like Jedwin Sparrow at her doorstep. After all, she'd been shunned by the citizens of Dead Dog, Oklahoma, for so long that she'd given up hope of having any respectable gentleman callers.

But the last thing Jed expected was romance. He was looking for a sophisticated woman to help him sow his wild oats. Instead, Cora made him a proposition of her own--one that would cause a fury in the town--and cause her to question her own heart...
THE PLOT: Cora Briggs is the pariah of Dead Dog, Oklahoma. Not only is she a divorcée, having been married to the son of the town matriarch, but her former mother-in-law and her friends delighted in spreading false rumours about her after the divorce. So now Cora lives alone in her little house right outside town, struggling to make ends meet.

When Jedwin Sparrow, the local undertaker, approaches her with a very improper proposition, Cora's first impulse is to send him off with a fly in his ear. But she can't resist engaging in a little revenge, because Jedwin's mother, Amelia, was one of the main spreaders of the rumours that ruined her. Cora doesn't intend to let Jedwin touch her, but she'll keep him hanging around long enough for someone to notice. That's sure to embarrass Amelia. And if it embarrasses Jedwin as well, that's no more than he deserves for the insult of his offer.

But Jedwin is nothing like the arrogant spoilt idiot Cora assumed he was. He takes Cora's conditions as an invitation to court her and energetically does just that. And after a while, Cora can't remember why she wanted to punish him...

MY THOUGHTS: I know what you're thinking: the local undertaker? Really? Yes, really, and he's a lovely, kind and sexy guy. It does help that he doesn't actually handle the bodies, because as much as I rationally know that it's a perfectly respectable job, one someone has to do, there's something icky about being touched by a guy who's just spent his day embalming dead bodies.

Well, it just so happens that Jed has a bit of a phobia about embalming, and kudos to Morsi for not making this read like a contrivance, designed to spare her readers' sensibilities (even if it was exactly that). She actually turns it into a symbol of the conflict between Jed and his mother, of their struggle over whether Jed will strike out on his own and follow his dreams or whether he'll simply step into the role his mother is determined he'll fill. It was excellently done.

And even more kudos for not making Jed come across as a mama's boy even if the main conflict in his relationship with Cora is his mother. Jed comes across as young and pretty innocent in some respects (yep, he's a virgin), but he's very much a man, too, and he's got plenty of strength of character to stand up for the right thing and for what he wants. When he realizes he's falling for Cora, he doesn't care in the least about the whole town's disapproval. As long as Cora is happy, he's happy.

Cora is great. She's been done wrong by everyone, but hasn't let that sour her. But neither is she a perfect martyr: Cora resents what happened and is not above wishing for a little revenge against the people who slight her and make her everyday life hell. She has a small brain fart near the end of the book, when she does the "I'm not worthy" thing, but Jed doesn't let her wallow in it and sees through what she's doing right away, so the whole thing didn't annoy me all that much.

Like Something Shady, Wild Oats is both sweet and spicy and both charming and aware of the dark side of those small towns, full of judgmental people. I really like what Morsi does with her settings.

There's a secondary romance here between Jedwin's mother and the embalmer working at Jed's undertaker business. It was nice enough, I suppose, but I'm afraid I wasn't too crazy about it, as I didn't think Amelia was made to pay enough for her actions in destroying Cora's life just to curry favour with Cora's former mother-in-law.



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