Althea knew she had her choice of any single man in Marrying Stone, Arkansas. Yet the only one she felt truly comfortable with was Simple Jess.
Sweet and gentle, Jess wasn't as smart as your average man. But his tender manner stirred Althea's heart in ways she had never dreamed possible.
It would take a miracle to find a husband in Marrying Stone. But sometimes miracles are right under your nose.
Comment: Here's another book for the TBR challenge of this year. May is the month for a Kickin' It Old School (Copyright 10 years or older) story. I confess I have lots of these in my pile because I like to save for a rainy day... The day I won't be able to buy more books I'll have plenty to keep me busy until I can do it again. I'm like a good ant.
Anyway, this title fits the bill as it was published in 1996, so closer to 20 years than 10. Also, I've read the first in these series/trilogy so another good reason why I would pick it.
This is the story of Simple Jess, a young man who lives in the Ozark mountains with his family and a small community. Jess is different from most man because of a problem with his birth but apart from that he does what everyone else does and he can be reliable and trustworthy. He just needs help interpreting some things and in learning things the first time. He's honest and innocent but he wants to be as respected as everyone else.
Althea Winsloe is also young, a widow with a small child to take care of. She wants to do things her own way but the community apparently can't leave her alone especially with a good farm on her hands. With another two suitors and a lot of problems, can Althea see past Jess's obvious issues to the wonderful man he is?
This isn't the first time I've read a story with a character who has difficulties and what we would call a mental impairment. I've read Tim by Colleen McCullough which, in a different way, also shows us such people can be as worthy and deserving as everyone else. (Those of you who haven't read it, you'll like it! More serious than this one though but so beautiful...)
Simple Jess is a man who is scorned, mocked and easily dismissed but he also has unique traits that make him beautiful to those who really appreciate and love him. Of course Jess' personality was the most interesting thing to look for here and I enjoyed all scenes with him.
However, one of the things I kind of expected in this book was to see how Jess would behave as a married man and I thought this would focus more on Jess' feelings and POV but regretfully that didn't happen. In my opinion too much happened with secondary characters and the development of Jess and Althea's relationship and romance was too slow and too subtle. Until the end, where Althea finally admitted her feelings, things between them weren't as obvious as I thought they should.
Sure, Jess is different and he couldn't reply as other men most likely would have, but he had feelings for her and he had proved he could be worthy and dependable. I know it's difficult to accept someone like him easily, I understand Althea's initial setbacks but this is a romance, I wanted them to talk more about it, to share something more before those final scenes. It's not that it wasn't done well or romantically, I just hoped that, since this is about Jess mostly, he would be a more high profiled protagonist.
In general terms, this is a good book. I liked the writing, the protagonists, even when Althea did things I don't agree with, I liked the interactions between Jess and the other characters because we could see his values shine through despite any prejudice of others. Even Jess' actions with Althea's son and the way he is a grown up with him and teaches him things too, even morally speaking.
Other things annoyed me though. Eben is one of those characters we are suppose to dislike but forgive everything because he is redeemed. Sincerely I don't mind the lesson that all people who ask sincere forgiveness should be given a second chance but his behavior is inexcusable in my opinion.
I do understand plot workings and the meaning here but still...
Another thing that really made me want to scream at someone was how the people felt "enabled" to discuss and demand things from Althea's life. In a way I know this is supposed to be funny and/or exaggerated to the point where the sort of rural community has the power they shouldn't have. But it irritated me to no end how Althea couldn't make a decision without their almost bullying. Of course historical facts and times are part of the explanation, especially in small villages and remote places, but it was very hard to keep reading how Althea couldn't just make her decisions, even if the romance needs "had" to push her into a path.
So,some things stopped me from fully swooning about this novel.
It's not that it is bad because it isn't. But I just couldn't put aside my contemporary views and maybe it's my fault and maybe it's the way it's written didn't allow me to go from reality to fantasy enough.
In the end things end well for everyone of course. I'm happy for them, Jess in particular, but I feel a bit bad he didn't get to be a hero with more pump and circumstance as I think he deserved.
All in all, a good enough story. Many details the author used about rural life - like killing hogs and farm practices which don't seem important for the romance but I liked seeing - gave atmosphere to the plot and I think in that, the book is successful.
Still, the romance, despite its good parts and charming scenes, wasn't completely perfect for my taste and for what I kind of wanted for Jess. The book does work well as far as the time period details is concerned, though. Still... could be better for me.