12/28/06

I Do, I Do, I Do (2000)

By Maggie Osborne

From the back flap: "A rich, proper spinster aching for a man's touch, Juliette March is an easy target for the seductive Jean Jacques Villette. When he disappears with her inheritance after their wedding, Juliette sets out to find the scoundrel. She never expects to meet Clara Klaus, who ran a bordinghouse until Jean Jacques swept her off her feet, then swept himself out of town. While following the trail of their no-good husband, Clara and Juliette run into Zoe Wilder, another victim of the debonair Jean Jacques. Now Zoe's ready to put a bullet in his cheating heart. When these three vengeful ladies embark on a misbegotten quest to Alaska, things get downright dangerous -- especially for the unsuspecting men they entice along the way..."

What a cool book. Now that all the extra people in this house have gone (except we intrepid interlopers, of course) I devoured this gem of a romance. I loved the idea of a three-in-one storyline, and one that challenges the traditional "sisters" sort of device, a la Katherine Stone. However, beyond the excellent and unusual premise, Osborne delivers a compelling picture of life in the Klondike circa 1897.

Here's where the story could have gone wrong #1: snakebite scenes. I noticed years ago, when Westerns were more common, that the easiest device an author can use to promote sudden and life-changing realizations is a random snakebite. The heroine's been bit! Shit! The hero will have to suck out the poison! Intimacy ensues! Used correctly, these scenes are great for livening dialogue or focusing the characterization, but too many just seem lazy.

In describing the trail to Dawson City, Osborne could have liberally peppered her story with a ton of these little, sudden surprises, but she exercised some restraint, focusing instead on the more real and difficult rigors of simply existing in such an environment. Washing clothes, gathering wood, living in confined spaces with people for so long (tents), and friggin' NOT FREEZING!

I can only think of one snakebite scene, in which one of the characters falls through the ice. Other dangers are real and examined thoroughly, but they are good and in keeping with life on the trail. Nothing seemed artificial or corny, which was important considering the overall artificiality and corniness of the plot itself. All three wives find each other and THEN find their perfect match along the trail? C'mon! Osborne had to keep the setting realistic lest the whole thing wander into the realm of too much unbelievability. She only asks that you suspend disbelief for the premise. The rest is good, solid historical storytelling.

Here's where the story could have gone wrong #2: the women. Juliette is prissy. Clara is practical. Zoe is hard. Yet Zoe gets seasick. Clara is afraid of heights. And Juliette rebels... slowly. Osborne gives the women appropriate strengths and flaws, drawing each out of their comfortable, pre-betrayal existence to challenge the issues of self-esteem that held them back. They compliment and counter each other at every turn, with flaws and problems that flow naturally from the solid characterization Osborne provides. The LOATHE each other upon meeting, and well into the journey north, but they slowly come to depend on each other -- and the resulting affection remains catty, real, and competitive. Nothing twee. Nothing too sugary. Just great relationships.

The other nice thing about the relationships she builds is that, in dealing with three couples, we get to see something rare in a romance novel: a hero interacting with a non-love interest. The six of them shared the rigors of the trail, with the men looking after the women (and vice versa) when situations arose. Hero A did not wait for Hero B to come back from hunting when Heroine B was in need. Most romances seem to hermetically seal the pair in a airtight world of "I only have eyes for you," as if no one else exists. I know I'm guilty of that. This was a refreshing and awesome treat.

Where the story went wrong a little: the follow-through. Osborne set up each romance with enough tingling moments to wake me up from my gluttony-induced Christmas stupor, but with only one sexual encounter per couple, the follow-through and intimacy of each relationship (not just the sex) lacked. I mean, she only had so many pages to cover three different connections, so I know it was never going to be as in-depth as a single couple story. However, Tom and Zoe aside, Osborne suddenly treated Clara and Juliette's moments of sexy alone time with their partners like a farce. Where fantastic characters had been, caricatures of their most prominent traits appeared instead. I know that three earnest, tender, soul-giving encounters would have been a little dull, and she had to make it appear that the three couples were unique, but her technique went too far.

And dude! A little resolution would have been nice. I would have liked to see a glimpse into their futures. Did they go their separate ways as the women had planned? But otherwise, this was a fun, flirty, well-researched, and unique read. I'm glad I found it.

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