Friday, April 04, 2008

book review: Not Easily Broken by Ruth Smith Meyer

Title: Not Easily Broken
Author: Ruth Smith Meyer
Publisher: Word Alive Press, 2007
Genre: Historical Romance
ISBN: 1897373104

When parents of 21-year-old Ellie ask her to break up with her dapper and ambitious beau to marry John Kurtz, the recent widower of her older sister, Ellie is outraged. She understands her parents’ need to keep connected to their little granddaughters, but at such a sacrifice on her part? It seems unthinkable! Yet, family allegiance and her ingrained training to respect and obey her parents wins. She ditches Gerhard and a little later, when John asks her to marry him and mother his two little girls, she accepts – with misgivings but a grim determination to make the marriage work.

In Not Easily Broken, a first novel by Ruth Smith Meyer, we follow Ellie from 1877 to 1900 as she makes a life with John on his Ontario farm. We experience the budding of their love and enjoy the warm atmosphere of their family. Then, just when things couldn’t be going better, Ellie is battered by another cruel circumstance. Will life ever be normal and happy again?

The characters Smith Meyer has brought to life made the book memorable for me. Sweet and thoughtful Ellie grows into a practical and wise mother and who only becomes more beautiful and vulnerable. The two main male characters, John and Jake, are very different from each other. Smith Meyer fleshes out those differences with writerly skill by showing their personalities in conversation and action. The children Maria, Marta and George are also distinct individuals.

The book’s late 19th century rural setting is a good one for this pastoral romance. Not only is the plot line – parents asking their daughter to marry the man of their choice though she is in love with someone else – pretty well unthinkable in our 21st century culture, but the leisurely pace of unmechanized life is perfect for this tale of the slow nourishment of love. Smith Meyer sustains the pioneer ambiance, with its horse and buggy transportation, its farming-based economy, and its country and small-town friendliness, without lapses.

The themes of love and marriage are central. Smith Meyer shows us through Ellie and John’s lives that falling in love is much more than a floaty feeling that happens when we first lay eyes on someone special. Instead, she demonstrates how love can grow in an atmosphere of mutual empathy, unselfishness, and generosity.

Faith in God also plays a big role in the story. Again and again the characters acknowledge God in their daily lives as they discuss spiritual matters and pray. Indeed, the title is a phrase from a scripture verse (“A strand of three is not easily broken…”) which Ellie quotes at one point when she refers to God as the third strand in a strong marriage relationship.

Dealing with the death of a spouse also surfaces more than once. Here Smith Meyer’s writing really shone, largely, I think, because she has experienced such a loss herself. This bit, for example, helped me feel Ellie’s shock in an almost physical way:

“Even though just one was missing, the hole seemed larger than that. If felt as thought the anchor post was gone and the whole fence that delineated their family was leaning at a crazy angle. She felt no sense of direction and couldn’t think what she should do or where she should begin.”

If I have one criticism, it would be that the plot (based on a true story) seemed too pleasant and trouble-free in parts – so that I found my interest waning. What is it with us that though we want smooth sailing for the characters, we lose interest when life gets too comfortable and trouble-free for them?

All in all, though, Not Easily Broken is a beautiful story involving well-conceptualized and complex characters. Smith Meyer’s style, with its attention to ethnic detail (a German community) and the way she describes nature and country life, reminded me of Beverly Lewis’s writing. Here’s hoping Smith Meyer doesn’t stop with this book but publishes more romantic Canadiana soon.


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