We’re reading our way across America…one romance at a time.
Iowa: Making Waves by Lorna Seilstad (Lake Manawa #1)
The Great American Midwest, aka America’s Breadbasket, aka the Grain Belt, aka Flyover Country, is lamentably underrepresented when it comes to mainstream fiction, most especially romance. Oh, sure, Texas gets a lot of love, and there are about a zillion procedurals set in Chicago. Other exceptions—Dorothy Garlock, LaVyrle Spencer—also exist. But your typical Midwest-set novel tends to be either a) the story of an emotionally damaged, usually alcoholic law enforcement officer combating the demons of his/her past while investigating a corpse that has turned up in some cornfield or other or b) an inspirational novel.
And looking at the cover of Lorna Seilstad’s charming Making Waves, which features a tiny-waisted, disheveled, comically alarmed-looking blonde in period array standing on a dock; well, you can pretty well guess that neither cornfields nor corpses figure particularly heavily in this one.
Making Waves begins in 1895 in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where feisty young Marguerite Westing is enduring yet another outing with Roger, the world’s most tedious—and tediously controlling—suitor. So fed up is Marguerite that she’s actually praying for the sweet release of death. Specifically, Roger’s death. “Be creative,” she encourages her God. Unfortunately for Marguerite, God doesn’t take Roger, but she gets the next best thing: upon returning home from her date, she’s informed that the family is going to spend the summer at the upscale Lake Manawa resort—away from the heat of town and, even better (from her perspective), away from Roger.
At the lake, Marguerite becomes obsessed with sailboats and sailing. Dragging along her reluctant younger brother, Mark, she approaches the local sailing instructor, handsome and stalwart Trip Andrews, for lessons. Because no proper young woman would ever be allowed to sail alone with Trip and his all-male crew, she claims that the lessons are for Mark; she’s just there to “supervise.” In fact, Mark hates the water, but Marguerite turns out to be a natural, and before long the skeptical Trip is impressed with her skill…and taken with her beauty and wit.
Unfortunately, despite her deep faith in God, Marguerite sometimes has a little problem with honesty. She claims she can swim (for safety reasons, non-swimmers are not allowed on Trip’s boat). She lies to her mother about her whereabouts during her sailing lessons. She lies to Trip about Roger, and to Roger about Trip. And she seems constitutionally unable to tell the odious Roger to get bent, preferring to hope that things will sort themselves out somehow, or that her father will take care of it, just like he has always taken care of everything else. Trip, for his part, is also a believer, but is inflexible and unforgiving, attitudes that his irascible father, Deuce (no really), attributes to a profound betrayal that occurred deep in the distant past.
Further complications arise when Marguerite discovers that her adored father has gambled the family’s assets away. The family’s only way out, it would seem, is for Marguerite to make an advantageous marriage…to the obscenely wealthy Roger, whose behavior is edging from controlling to outright abusive as Marguerite continually refuses to dance to his tune. Even Marguerite’s father is on board with this unfortunate plan. But if her father won’t help her, her Father might. Will Marguerite (and Trip) realize that the truth will set them free (and act accordingly) before she makes the biggest mistake of her life?
Lake Manawa, currently the site of a state park, was once a bustling resort area that catered to well-heeled Midwesterners, and author Lorna Seilstad has clearly done her research. The cotillions, regattas, and various entertainments described here are apparently rooted in history—even the not-even-a-little-bit-insane Miss Fishbaugh, a real woman whose act consisted of donning an asbestos bathing suit (!), dousing it with gasoline, setting herself on fire, and diving from a high platform into the water. The characters are well-rounded and interesting; some novels for the Christian market feature too-good-to-be-true heroes and heroines behaving virtuously in plots clearly designed to edify first and entertain second, but not this one. Marguerite is hilarious, not to mention loyal and brave, but she’s also a bit flighty and immature, and clearly has some growing up to do. Trip is hard-working, intelligent, and kind, but he also very badly needs to come down from his high horse.
There’s plenty of excitement—near-drownings, kidnappings, demon rum, rigged faro tables, the recreation of a famous sea battle (complete with an unanticipated boat fire), sailboat races between rich and poor, and revival meetings. And while it’s obvious that although these two crazy kids aren’t going to stray too far from the path of righteousness, it’s equally obvious that they want each other:
“And you know what the Bible says. ‘Greet one another with a holy kiss.’” He dipped his head and brushed the sweetest kiss across her lips – warm, soft, reverent.
“I like your interpretation of the Scriptures, Trip Andrews.”
“And that was just a taste.”
Her cheeks suddenly burned hot as a new thought popped in her head. What could he do with the Song of Solomon?
What, indeed? Wow!
Even people who don’t usually read inspirationals might enjoy this one. In Making Waves, Lorna Seilstad demonstrates that change and growth are possible and even necessary even after a come-to-Jesus experience, and she ably evokes a distant and nearly-forgotten time and place. After reading this book, I wouldn’t mind visiting 1895 Lake Manawa. Even if it is in Flyover Country.
Kate Nagy grew up in Kansas, another state that gets no respect. She is Editor at Large of Geek Speak Magazine.