GUEST REVIEW: Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer
I am having a horrible time writing this review. There’s nothing I can criticize about this book. Not one single thing. How can you write a balanced review when there’s nothing weak or flawed there to balance all the good? So I’m giving up-‘this is not a balanced review, I’m going to gush and praise like the most rabid of fangirls.
The back cover blurb doesn’t even begin to convey the complexity of the story, nor the mastery of the writing:
In town, they called her "Crazy Widow Dinsmore." But Elly was no stranger to their ridicule-‘she had been an outsider all her life, growing up in a boarded-up old house under the strict eye of her eccentric grandparents. Now she was all alone, with two little boys to raise, and a third child on the way.
He drifted into Whitney, Georgia, one lazy afternoon in the summer of 1941, hoping to put his lonely past behind him. He yearned for the tenderness he had never known, the home he’d never had. All he needed was for someone to give him a chance.
Then he saw a classified ad: WANTED-‘A husband. When he stepped across Elly Dinsmore’s cluttered yard, Will Parker knew he had come home at last.
The book spans about two and a half years during WWII, and follows two of the most memorable characters I’ve ever met. He’s an ex con, an orphan, displaced and haunted by his past. She’s a pregnant widow with two young children, a reputation for madness, and a deep mistrust for the people who have made her an outsider all of her life.
Contrary to a widely held convention in romances-‘particularly those written in the 1980s-‘neither of these characters feel in, or behave from, a position of power over the other one. Elly needs a man to work the farm and help provide for her children, and all she has to offer is marriage-‘a stake on the land. Will has been drifting, his jail time making it impossible for him to hold a job anywhere. All he has to offer is a strong back and his willingness to work. They feel equally inadequate, equally lonely, equally lacking in worth. Their lives are hard and nearing hopelessness, but neither of them indulges in self pity. Their world is harsh, and one doesn’t survive in it for long by being weak.
After a trial period, they do get married-‘a marriage of convenience, and from which they expect nothing, want nothing and need nothing, beyond a sense of security and belonging. Gradually, as they get to know each other, and learn to deal with the responsibilities marriage entails, even a marriage that doesn’t seem to exist except on paper, things change. They both need more-‘to give and to receive. And it is this journey, from isolated entities to a tightly bound unit, that the novel charts.
The setting, a small town in Georgia in the early 1940s, is rendered with sure strokes and built up, bit by bit, through the course of the novel. America hasn’t quite recovered from the Great Depression, and rural towns move at a slow pace reminiscent of times long gone. The historic detail is never intrusive, but pervasive nonetheless, from the smallest aspects of everyday routine to the larger social and political issues of the time.
There are a number of delightful secondary characters, from the inimitable Miss Beasley, to Robert Collins, Lydia Marsh, and all the way down to Nathaniel and Norris MacReady, who comprise Whitney’s Civilian Guard during the war years. Lula Peak, the town slut, and Harley Overmire, superintendent at the local sawmill, are two other key secondary characters-‘not delightful by any means, but still skillfully drawn.
Will’s friendship with Miss Beasley, the spinsterish librarian, is particularly poignant in its realism. While both Elly and Will have felt like lonely outcasts for most of their lives, Elly has a family-‘her relationship with her children is something Will envies and doesn’t believe he can even hope to have. For her part, Miss Beasley is a lonely old maid, separated by intelligence, education, and character from most of the people around her. Given their personalities and interests, there is a tremendous sweetness in how these two characters, loners by circumstance rather than nature, find a kindred spirit and, tentatively at first, lower their defenses to offer and accept friendship.
Throughout the book, the dialogue is so good you can virtually hear the different accents and see each character’s background and education just from hearing them talk. But it’s really Ms Spencer’s incredible portrayal of the main characters’ inner lives that grabs the reader’s imagination and heart. Here is a snippet from a particularly lovely scene near the mid point of the novel:
They lay flat, quivering inside, disciplining themselves into motionlessness. From the corner of her eye she glimpsed his bare chest, the looming elbows, the hands folded behind his head. From the corner of his eye he saw her pregnant girth and her high-buttoned nightie with the quilts covering her to the ribs. Beneath her hands she felt her own heartbeat driving up through the quilt. On the back of his skull he felt the accelerated rhythm of his pulse.
The minutes dragged on. Neither moved. Neither spoke. Both worried.
One kiss-‘is that so hard?
Just a kiss-‘please.
But what if she pushes you away?
What is there for a man in a woman so pregnant she can scarcely waddle?
What woman wants a man with so many tramps under his bridge?
What man wants to roll up against someone else’s baby?
But most of them were paid, Elly, all of them meaningless.
Yes, it’s Glendon’s baby, but he never made me fell like this.
Turn to her, he thought.
Turn to him, she thought.
This novel is a perfect mix of characterization and dialogue with plot and pacing, along with a poetic quality to the writing that manages to convey, so very vividly, the time and place where these lives unfold. I have read this book more than a dozen times over the years, and each time I start (like this time, in order to review it), I’m taken away to Whitney, to wonder anew at the everyday miracles that Elly’s and Will’s relationship embody.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If I could, I’d give it 200 out 100 :grin:
azteclady (who guest blogs on a regular basis at Karen Knows Best)
This book can be purchased in mass market or ebook format.
When I began reading romance novels again and after I had found AAR and their DIK list, this is one of the books I picked to try. It is as great as you say and one that I highly recommend.
I read this book many years ago and recall it as being a very emotionally satisfying read. Thank you for bringing back such good memories and reminding me why I enjoyed it so much.
This is just one of those books that sings to me.
Wow, great review! This is one book that has stood out in my mind over the years. Sometimes it is hard to say why you like a book so much, but you did a great job!
Wow. I’ve never read LaVyrle Spencer but this one sounds terrific. I’ll have to check this one out!
This is one of my favorite romances ever, from start to finish. Never a wrong note. To be honest, I learned about it in the credits of the movie they made from it — Christopher Reeve played Will, and he was so, so, good.
One of the best romances ever. It should be read by every novice romance writer who thinks you need exotic locales, people and events to make a story sing.
Spencer takes the reader deep into the emotional lives of two characters and crafts a beautiful story, and your review does it justice. Well done!
What a lovely review!! This remains to this day, one of my all time favourite romances. You captured what makes it so special and enduring. I HIGHLY recommend anyone who hasn’t read this poignant yet simple love story of two lonely people who find each other and find an enduring love.
I love Spencer’s work. I’m still trying to decide if I like Morning Glory or Hummingbird best, but all of her stuff is just beautiful. I recommend her to anyone who wants to read poetically written, very poignant romance.
LaVyrle Spencer is a master. Er, mistress. I love all of her books, including this one.
Vows, The Gamble, Forgiving, and Bittersweet are on my keeper shelf…and I reread them regularly.
Recently, two of my friends read Vows for the first time. While they loved it, they wondered if the book–with all of its description and internalizing–would have been published today, in a market where the pressure is to write lean. It would be a shame if that were the case.
PS Marjorie! I can’t believe I didn’t know they made a movie out of it. And with Christopher Reeve?
I do remember a movie made from a Spencer book…where she marries the brother of her husband, if I recall correctly. Which book is that?
This one is a classic.
FWIW – I saw the movie when it first came out and hated it! I’d heard it was being made into a movie and waited with bated breath for it.
Christopher Reeve was not my picture of Will Parker although Deborah Raffin was who I imagined Elly as.
What was unforgivable to me was they changed the ending – considerably. I know Lavyrle Spencer had a hand in the movie as a consultant but it was the perfect example for me of why I don’t want to see many of my favourite romance books made into movies.
I knew about the movie, though I haven’t seen it, and considered providing a link to imdb but… I’m with Kristie(J) It is rare the movie that lives up to the book, and with novels I’ve really loved, I don’t take chances.
Thank you, ladies, for your kind comments.
This book has been on my keeper shelf since its release years ago. All LaVyrle Spencer books are top notch and I miss her.
MORNING GLORY still stands as my all-time favorite romance. I’ve read every one of Spencer’s books, and loved them all, but MG holds a special place in my heart. Will and Elly’s story is more than a romance, it is a love story that goes deep, then deeper, into the emotional well.
And someone mentioned HUMMINGBIRD . . . Yes, yes, yes!
Thank you so much for the review. It was lovely to relive the feelings I had for this book. (It’s still on my shelf, by the way. :-)
I didn’t hate the movie — in fact, I loved the first part of it — but I admit, the ending wasn’t all that great. Here’s a bigger problem, though — the DVD offered on Amazon has a fatal flaw that is found in ALL of the discs they’re selling. But…
I just looked at the Amazon website, and it seems as though disc was released again just in January, so maybe they fixed the problem. Here’s the link.
I believe that was The Fulfillment, her first book.
MORNING GLORY changed my life. Period. It stands as my number one favorite book of all time, and I often open my worn copy to a random page for the sheer joy of any single sentence. Beautiful review of a breathtaking book. I think I’ll treat myself to the whole thing again. Thank you!
LOVED this book and reread it often. Spencer was one of the best romance writers around. She wrote about regular people finding love. Other wonderful titles, Small Town Girl, Years, The Gamble, Humingbird.
Thank you, azteclady. Eloquent and simply stated. Your love for the book really shines through. From your review, and all the responses, I know I have to read this one!
That’s it, Janine! The Fulfillment. Thanks for jogging my memory.
Now…back to my all of a sudden compelling reread of The Gamble.
I really enjoyed Morning Glory, too, but I can think of one thing wrong with it – the character of Lula. I felt that Spencer created Lula to be the “bad” woman, to set her in juxtaposition to Elly who is the “good” woman. I hate it when authors do this. I felt bad for Lula because it seemed like the author had no sympathy for her at all because she was grasping and slutty or whatever – it was like the book hated her, but I didn’t. I especially felt like (SPOILER – sorry I don’t know how to do spoiler font here!)
Lula’s murder was depicted as her “deserving” it because she was a slut and that really disturbed me.
However, I did like the other elements of the book – especially the beautiful writing and the slow relationship that Will and Elly build together.
Allie S, while I can see what you mean, I beg to disagree.
I believe that the slant given to Lula’s murder during the trial was from Mr Collins to the jury, and basically with the intent of creating a contrasting impression that would benefit his client.
The character itself, on the other hand, is a slut–I have met a few in my time, and a couple would give Lula a run for her money in the selfishness and lack of self awareness departments. The contrast, for me, wasn’t about morals (slut Lula vs modest/demure/whatever Elly), but about spirit, strength of character, generosity, and having the capacity to love.
I don’t remember Morning Glory that well — I only read it once, unlike some other Spencer novels, but I recall that though I liked it very much, it was not quite a keeper for me, and that this character was the reason why. I still feel that Morning Glory — surely one of the most beloved books in the genre — is very much worth reading.
I will add though that I’ve run into this issue with some of Spencer’s other books, too (and I am one who counts Years, Separate Beds, November of the Heart, Spring Fancy and Family Blessings among some of her favorite books). But Bittersweet, for example, was marred for me by the degree to which the hero’s wife was villified. And I would love Seperate Beds even more if the hero’s previous love interest hadn’t been compared and contrasted with the heroine and found lacking in so many ways. Having said that, the book that my review of just posted, Ibbotson’s A Countess Below Stairs, also has a villainess who is juxatposed with the heroine, yet in that book it doesn’t bother me at all. Maybe because Ibbotson is more subtle about it, or because her tone is more humorous? I’m really not sure.
In any case, despite this issue, I agree that for the most part, LaVyrle Spencer’s writing is masterly and she is one of the best writers in this genre.
I’ve enjoyed several of LaVyrle Spencer’s novels.
She, along with VERY FEW other romance novelists set
their historicals in the early to mid 20th century.
We need more set in that time period!
Wow, how timely. The other day I was thinking about blogging about LaVyrle Spencer and all her books. I just don’t think enough as been said about her. I even drafted the blog, but didn’t finish.
My first romance book ever was Vows, so it always holds a special place in my heart. This is followed very closely by Years. I think Morning Glory is the book that made me ache the most. And then smile through tears at the ending.
Now I need a reread… Hmm…Time to go up in the attic and dig out the books.
She was actually a big name, bestselling author at the time that her books came out. I could be wrong, but I think all of her novels have remained in print since she stopped writing over a decade ago, and that says a lot for how loved they are.
In spite of the problems I have with it, I completely agree. And I agree with azteclady – Spencer is a really wonderful writer. And I do think that sort of contrast between a bad woman and a good woman was more prevalent in the 80s/early 90s and was sort of a feature of the time.
That’s a very good point. The villainess was something of a trend in the romances of that era.
I’m usually an avid lurker on this blog, but I had to chime in to say how wonderful it is to see this book reviewed. It’s one of my favs of all time, my favorite Spencer, along with Vows and Twice Loved. I personally think her style came into its own in her historicals, more so than in her contemporaries.
And yes her books are still being reprinted – although I often find them in the ‘bargain bin’ of my local bookstore, which doesn’t tell the story of how brilliant a writer Spencer is.
I fell in love with LaVyrle Spencer’s books. I have all of them. I cannot believe someone as gifted as she would stop writing. I still miss her and often reread my books. I have tried to find someone who has her style and insight. I found Kristin Hannah and would recommend her books. I will never stop hoping that Lavylre will come out of retirement to write just one more romantic novel. I am swept away with every story she has ever written. One other great one was Twice Loved. I never saw The Fullfillment in video but prefer not to watch great novels recreated for the screen. I did not enjoy the adaptation of Morning Glory but it was one of my favorite reads!
And almost a year later I find this review and need to add my voice to those that say Morning Glory has to be one of the best books ever written, any genre.
The way that Will and Elly unfold to one another, not through sex or romance but a slow unveiling of their truest selves, has to be one of the most moving stories ever. And two people who show their love by facing their fears and willing themselves to stand up for each other…
I adore this book. Hummingbird was another that brought me to my emotional knees, whereas most of her others didn’t move me in the same ways.
Her greatest talent, amongst so many as a writer, is in her vivid descriptions. She brings areas and seasons and eras to life, she is so aware of nature and her surroundings. And her research! I was amazed to read she didn’t have high-level college degrees, she has quite an aptitude for research and conveying the detailed information in subtle ways to transport us to the time and situation her characters live in. Morning Glory is wonderful…and Twice Loved, Bittersweet, many others. All of us lament the retirement of favorite artists , but they do of course have that right to re-claim their own life and writing is such a demanding career, consuming so much time that she now apparently enjoys spending with her husband and family and pursuing her many hobbies and talents. Thanks for a moving review (and I did also enjoy the movie adaptation!) and to Lavyrle Spencer for giving us so many diverse stories to enjoy over and over, each time finding new elements we missed previous times.
I absolutely loved this book. It takes place in the time when my mother was a young woman. What a great read!
I really like this book. I have it too. It is really amazing!
i love this book…
I has read the morning glory one month ago..and the book is so inspiring me..
What a great read!
I just love this book. One of the best I have ever read!!
I had never heard of LaVyrle Spence, but when I pick up the book
I found it very hard to put down. It was written with so much feeling and I wonder how she managed to keep her readers inspired. I only hope with my novel I can do the same. Joan.
I read this book years ago and fell in love with it. I then proceeded to read every other book written by LaVyrle Spencer.