We’re reading our way across America...one romance at a time. And, to make it even more fun, we’re doing it in order of incorporation into the United States.
Missouri: The Edge of Town by Dorothy Garlock
Dorothy Garlock’s official website proudly proclaims her “The Voice of America’s Heartland,” and she does hold a legitimate claim to that title. She’s the author of over fifty published romances, most of which are set in what the less charitable among us might refer to as “flyover country:” Oklahoma, Minnesota, Arkansas, and non-Chicago regions of Illinois, among others. In The Edge of Town, the author visits small-town Missouri and serves up another helping of the heart-warming mid-American romance for which she is famous.
In 1922, Julie Jones is a nineteen-year-old farm girl living just outside Fertile, Missouri, tasked with raising her numerous younger brothers and sisters after the death of their mother several years before. Although the Jazz Age is in full swing, she’s a bit old-fashioned and prefers the simple joys of domestic life, eschewing the bobbed hair, daring clothing, and catty attitudes of her flapper compatriots. That’s just fine with Evan Johnson, son of the town bully, who has just returned after an absence of several years. Evan is a bit too good to be true—he’s tall, handsome, educated, and a war hero, and while he could have his pick of girls (unfortunate pedigree notwithstanding), he immediately falls for Julie’s modest charms.
Julie, alas, has a Secret, and although you’ll be fully clued in pretty quickly, she worries—and not without some cause—that her Secret will drive an insurmountable wedge between herself and Evan. It turns out, however, that Evan has a Secret of his own…Meanwhile, a new police chief with a personal agenda arrives in town, Julie’s father hooks up with a flighty widow whose past is shrouded in mystery, and there’s a serial rapist running around. Then there’s a murder, for which Evan seems to be the prime suspect. You could say that there’s a lot going on in Fertile.
After reading my way through my share of books about socialites, aristocrats, time travelers, and the undead this spring, it was kind of nice to relax into a reasonably straightforward novel that extols the basics—things like simplicity, modesty, hard work, and family pride. That’s not to say there aren’t twists—there are; Garlock surprised the stuffing out of me at least twice. But I really appreciated that in this book, Julie—wise for her years—knows and accepts herself exactly as she is, and Evan is fully and enthusiastically on board:
“…I’m terribly ordinary, Evan. I’ve lived on this farm all my life and not been more than fifty miles from it. I’ve not ridden on a train and very few times in a motorcar. I can count on my fingers the times I’ve been to the picture show…I’m what Zelda and her chums called me, a country girl, and I’m not ashamed of it. I’d rather be what I am than what they are…”
“You’ve not said anything I didn’t know. It isn’t where you’ve been that matters. It’s who you are on the inside–what you care about. I like what you are, Julie: untarnished, unaffected and innocent. You’ve got more integrity in this little finger”–he stroked her finger with his thumb–“than the banker’s daughter has in her whole body…”
It’s also worth observing that the love scenes in this one are fairly tame; I’m not sure whether or not this is par for the course for Garlock but I will note that the sequel, High on a Hill, made me blush more than once. Overall, The Edge of Town is a relaxing read that will be celebrated by anyone who appreciates simple values and happy endings.
Kate Nagy is Editor at Large of Geek Speak Magazine.