Thoughts After Reading:
Set in Oklahoma Territory during the early 1900s, with a divorcee for a heroine, Pamela Morsi’s Wild Oats is about as different as it gets from the typical historical romances I read. But the premise was intriguing – a green lad tries to proposition a slightly older “scandalous” woman, resulting in a thoroughly unexpected romance between two complex characters. The novel turned out to be an intense, yet terrific read. The relationship itself feels very authentic, undergoing a natural progression as the protagonists get to know each other. Intertwined with this developing romance is a coming of age subplot, as the hero learns what it means to go from a young man to a man that stands up for what’s important to him. And finally, there are issues of society expectations and prejudices that are explored in detail.
Despite his tasteless proposition at the beginning of the novel, the twenty-four year old virginal hero really is a good guy. He treats everyone he meets with consideration, and does his best to uphold his parents’ wishes by running the family mortuary. He starts out knowing the heroine only by her scandalous reputation as a divorced woman, and his vague male fantasies of her voluptuous beauty lead him to suggest the arrangement. While it is rather amusing for the reader to watch the hero ask the heroine to become his mistress in a very respectful manner, she does not find it funny in the slightest. The twenty-nine year old heroine has had a difficult life, especially in the years following her marriage. The handsome prince charming who swept her off her feet and married her turned out to be a sad excuse of a man. He was already involved with an Indian woman, and only married the heroine in an attempt to appease society and his mother. He leaves the heroine after about a year, unable to make the marriage work, so the heroine gets a divorce. And in the small town of “Dead Dog,” a divorced woman carries the stigma of a fallen woman. She is not welcomed at the church, can only sell products at the general store in secret, men assume she’s easy game, and is generally shunned by society. The heroine is angered by the proposition, but – initially to get back at the hero’s spiteful mother – agrees to allow the hero to court her. As they spent time together, the heroine is gradually won over by the hero’s innate kindness and persistent enthusiasm for treating the heroine with care. The hero tells the heroine he loves her easily enough, especially once she invites him into her bed, but it’s only as their relationship deepens that both characters get a more complete idea of what love truly is. The heroine replaces her faux simile of a relationship with her first husband with a clumsier, yet more authentic, version that involves the hero. The hero, in turn, learns what it means to stand by someone he loves. He puts those mature concepts into play as he finally makes a stand against his mother and against society’s prejudices for what he believes in, both for the woman that comes to mean everything to him and for his own personal dreams. There was only one real complaint I had with the book, and that was the last conflict. I understand that the heroine was trying to sacrifice for the hero, and it's obvious that her plans will not come to fruition. But I still hate it whenever a character comes so close to screwing everything up. In other words, I hate it when fate - rather than the characters' determination - is the motivating factor that keeps the couple together.
Pamela Morsi’s Wild Oats is an excellent historical romance novel. It tells the story of a sweet yet messy relationship between two characters fumbling on their path to true love, a relationship that is made all the more meaningful because of the messiness. Added to the intricate storyline are subplots that probe into rural life at the time. It is a book I would highly recommend to any romance reader looking for something a bit weighty, and a bit out of the ordinary.