Whitney, Georgia is a small town, and like any small town everybody's face comes with an internal list of family members, embarrassing moments from childhood to present, triumphs, failures, misdeeds and rumors. Lula Peak is the wanton tart who waitresses at the diner. Miss Beasley is the efficient and intimidating spinster who runs the local library. And who could forget Crazy Ellie Dinsmore whose mama was too young and shockingly single to be looked on with favor by society in the early 40's?
Ellie's grandfather was a fire and brimstone traveling Preacher whose obedient and silent wife did not even protest his decision to keep Ellie and her "sinful" young mother from the prying eyes of neighbors. In fact, no one in Whitney caught much more than a rare glimpse of either of them until the local school board realized that a child of school age was living there and not attending school! Who keeps a child locked up for the first five or six years of their lives and expects them to be well adjusted, let alone "God's will" ?!
Ellie's shy and dreamy ways didn't really improve her image when she finally did begin attending school though, and "Crazy Ellie" stuck, as cruel nicknames often do in small towns. Even after Ellie had grown up enough to catch herself a husband, and escape the madhouse she was raised in... after she had two fine boys and was the best of mothers... after her unstable grandparents and abused mother had passed on... she was still known as "Crazy" Ellie.
That was just fine in her opinion. She had no use for town and they had no use for her. She was quite content with her junk-collecting hopeless dreamer of a husband, Glendon. Their two young boys, the promise of a third child growing within her, and perhaps some wildflowers for her beloved wild birds was all the further Ellie looked for contentment. Until the day her husband died.
Time is running out for her now and she's got to find a way to make everything work; their over-run and cluttered farm, her boys too young to do more than be a loving burdern to her, as their unborn sister or brother begins to really slow her down. Glendon delivered their first two children. However will she manage any of this alone? With nothing left to loose, Ellie posts a want ad in the local paper for a husband, confirming the whispers of the town that still calls her crazy.
Yes Sir! Everyone knows Ellie... except Will Parker. New to Whitney, and perhaps the one person with even less to loose than the Widow Dinsmore, Will is trying hard to outrun his own haunted past. World War II looms on the nation's horizon, people are tense and no one has trust or money enough to hire on a no-account nameless drifter rumored to have served time for murdering a woman. Will even Ellie be crazy enough to take Will in when he shows up to answer her want ad?
This was the first novel I ever read by LaVyrle Spencer years ago, and it inspired me to go on to read quite a few more of her writings. Morning Glory was one of those lucky finds in a bag full of somebody's castoff books; one of many well-meaning donations that has gotten handed down to me over the years. I cannot begin to number the masses of books I have passed on through library, charity and yard sales because well meaning people who were doing a little house cleaning decided to pass on a load of books to me... simply because I read. Lucky finds are often the best though, and I have to say that none of the other tales by this author that I went on to read, however charming or well told, have ever really rivaled Morning Glory.
This book stands alone as a unique tale of love, and an extremely well-told drama. To me a drama is, however it's cut, a slice of someone's life; a window into a memorable time belonging to someone else. Morning Glory combines earthy realism with once in a life time events, becoming a tale that quickly transcends the simple concept of Romance.
Will and Ellie are both individuals starved for the simplest of affections. Orphaned, betrayed by his only friend's delusions, drifting from place to place, Will has never felt worthy of being loved, although he has always longed for someone loyal to belong to, and a real home he could call his own forever. Ellie has all the trauma of an awful childhood, the labeling of her hometown, and the insecurities of a pregnant woman to combat. Love ain't easy!
Even when such improbable seeds are thrown on fertile ground, there are always challenges to be overcome before love can truly thrive. I love that this story glorifies the beauty of a woman heavy with child. I also found the tension between Ellie and Will regarding the issue of having her latest child without the care of a doctor to be an unusual flavor to add to a romance. These, and the other more commonplace contentions that must be navigated by any two people seeking to build a life together, made for interesting reading and extremely realistic people. The relationship between Ellie and her children and the relatioship that develops between them and Will is extraordinarily well crafted.
The war plays a very important and interesting part in the tale of Will and Ellie, although the focus of this tale is always firmly centered around the lead charactes. As America slowly moves towards joining WWII, Will rushes to get things around the farm in order and to prepare both Ellie and the children. Ellie is terrified she will loose the one person in all the world that has become her solid foundation to cling to in the storm of her life. They both grow through their experiences while separated. Their stolen moments and letters during this time make for some truly tender and heartfelt moments.
Spencer perfectly captures several ways in which human beings endlessly sabotage themselves with their own doubts, feelings of inadequacy or supremacy, and the easiest lies ever told... those we tell ourselves. The individual jealousies of Lula Peak and Harley Overmire as both Ellie and Will not only begin to grow together, but also begin finding success in other areas of their lives, is also quite realistic and well written.
The friendship of the prim and proper Miss Beasley is a real highlight in this odd tale. I, for one, could not help but be charmed by this somewhat unlikely fairy Godmother figure. Added to these wonderful facets is the murder of a well-known citizen of Whitney... with all evidence pointing to Will Parker!
Morning Glory is an uncommonly sliced piece of drama that feels like a full meal. Extremely well written, it never feels hurried, forced, dragging, or dated... but rather alive, well-grown, organic and rooted in the elements like the enthusiastic vine that graces the tale with it's name.
Between the pages of this book you will meet and befriend living people who laugh, cry, heal, grieve, fail and triumph just like anybody else. Perhaps you will even become so enchanted as their tale unfolds that you will forget you are reading "just a romance", I know I did! Morning Glory reminds us that the heart is a tenacious vine; it clings to the rocky cliffs of Hope and thrives with just a little of Love's glorious light.
LaVyrle Spencer is an American writer who throughout her career was at the top of the romance bestseller lists and then at the height of her popularity she retired and hasn't written a word since, which to my mind is a tragedy.
Morning Glory is one of those books I would recommend to readers who are sceptical about the quality of writing when it comes to romance novels.
Synopsis: In 1940 Ellie Dinsmore is a widow with two small children, struggling to run her small farm in Georgia who, in desperation advertises for a husband. Will Parker is an ex-convict who has just been fired from his job and is literally starving and who, in desperation answers the ad. So two desperate people come together and gradually find in each other everything that they have longed for.
This novel is not about beautiful, glamorous people but about ordinary souls longing for love and redemption. Ellie is a lonely, bedraggled woman worn down by hard work and isolation and Will is a loner, a foundling who has been a drifter all his life. The storyline is so strong and so well told that from the very first page the reader is drawn into the lives of both Ellie and Will and desperately wants them to have their happy ending despite the unprepossessing start to their relationship.
As is generally the case with any romance novel, the course of true love does not run smooth and among other events, World War II separates the couple. This part of the novel is written in the form of letters exchanged between Ellie and Will. LaVyrle Spencer's writing here is truly inspired and she uses Ellie and Will's own words, misspelled and ungrammatical but truly beautiful, to relay the depth of feeling that has developed between the couple.
I don't wish to give away too much of the storyline but when Will returns again to the deep South a decorated soldier, he has to face an even greater barrier than the separation of war before he and Ellie find their happy-ever-after.
As well as being a wonderfully intense love story, LaVyrle Spencer brought to life this tiny area of the American deep South and peopled it with well drawn, three dimensional secondary characters, very much in the tradition of The Waltons but somewhat less sugary.
I have a shelf of 'keeper' books, ones I like to read again from time to time and this book is on that shelf as I know I will want to revisit Ellie and Will and their family one day.