Miss McGhee

Miss McGhee - Bett Norris The book is set in a small town in the segregated South. The time frame coincides with the rise of the Civil Rights movement. The titular character Mary McGhee is a northerner. Caught by her employer in a compromising situation with his daughter, she is sent off to a backwater town in the South with a pile of hush money and a job recommendation. The new company she goes to work for is a mess, as it has been operating for months without an office manager. Mary busies herself with the new job, but she can't keep her mind off her new boss' wife. Outwardly, she is a picture of poise and conformity--having experienced first-hand how dangerous and painful it can be otherwise. But inwardly she burns for an attraction that is unnatural and forbidden in her time.

The writing has a very realistic feel to it. This is much more than just a romance. We follow Mary and her friends (and enemies) for a period of roughly twenty years, as they experience all kinds of emotional growth. The contrasting personalities of the protagonists were very well-drawn. From the innocent, trusting, free-spirited Lila to the uptight, fearful, controlling Mary and the wild and wonderful Sammie--yes,she deserves her own book. I enjoyed the earlier parts of the book more because of its more optimistic and romantic tone, and because of the element of danger involved in a forbidden relationship. The book slowly and subtly morphs from a romance to a historical drama. Nothing wrong with that. But the tone also becomes increasingly negative. As the two protagonists grew older and more mature and the racial relations around them grew increasingly tense, there is a lot more discord and arguing among the two that sometimes even bordered on contempt.

I also didn't like how Mary and Lila never seemed to do anything about all the put-downs, thinly veiled insults and outright threats from men who feel women shouldn't have the power they do, except to fume in private. Their endless acquiescence to Buchanan eventually irritated me. I can understand the subterfuge when their business still owed the bank, but later on, it only seemed to encourage his bigotry and meanness. I kept wanting them to do something about it. I mean why dangle the possibilities if you're never gonna take advantage of them? I would have expected either of the two, but Lila especially, to have had the guts to marginalize Buchanan somehow or minimize his influence, given how much real power and money they have in their disposal. Also I think the hurtful words spewed by Lila to Mary were a little out of character. Granted they were said in anger, but where's the makeup part? ;) Would have been interesting to read how their romance matured over the years. But it was kind of just glossed over in a sentence or two. In the latter half of the book, the romance just got buried under the weight of all the goings-on, to the point where I thought the author was leading me to expect a breakup of some sort. :) The author did succeed in weaving Mary and Lila's story into the historical events of the time seamlessly. She gave a face and voice to the people on both sides who were caught in the conflict--especially the ordinary folks who'd rather just live and let live. As a historical fiction, this book shines. As a romance, it is a bit uneven.

4.4 stars