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Simple Jess by Pamela Morsi

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Simple Jess
Marrying Stone #2

Pamela Morsi
Historical Romance
Published in 1996

H/h - Jesse Best/Althea McNees Winsloe
Setting: Ozark Mountains, Arkansas, 1906.

Read in Mar, 2012.
My rating:

                                                    [spoiler alert]

I was certain Jesse’s book wouldn’t get anything less than a 5 star from me. I knew because I loved him soooo very much in Marrying Stone that I was practically impatient to start his book. The concept of a simpleminded or slow witted hero was very intriguing. But sadly, I was kinda disappointed and pissed more than a few times. Just hope that I can elaborate my feelings in this review the way I want it.

Jesse has been simple minded when he came out wrapped in his mother’s umbilical cord and suffered a lack of oxygen. Of course the small-town people of this side of the Ozark Mountains called the Marrying Stone do not know this. There are loads of speculations; some say he’s got a gift from God, as in having a  mind of a child and of innocence, that he’s got angels on his side. Also, that this happened because his birth was illegitimate (later his father married his mother of course, story in the 1st book). Jesse is the elder to Meggie, his only sister. Their hard mountain life has taught them many things. Their father Henry or Onery is a jovial man. But he’s elderly and has a lame leg so he can’t do many chores. The big, handsome, blonde Jesse does all the back breaking chores of the family, or he used to until Roe came along. How Roe got involved and fell in love with Meggie is in the 1st book but he’s a smart city man, adopted the mountain life for the love of his life. This book takes around 4 yrs. after Marrying Stone, so Roe and Meggie have been married for about 4 yrs. now. They have a daughter, the apple of everybody’s eyes, Edith and another on the way. Jesse is still a hard working man but things take time for him to learn. And things he can’t learn, he memorize and try to follow methodically. But Jesse is no fool which the small-minded peoples of this town don’t really get. Some of them are nice to him while most don’t count him at all. He’s called Simple Jess by everyone. One of the things I loved about Jesse was this; by now, he knew somehow that ‘simple’ isn’t just a part of his name but a derogatory word. But Jesse took it all in because he knew he is not smart and quick like normal man. He never whined or berated himself. I adored him more for it. He smiled and took it all in.

Now, after 4 yrs. we see many of the recurring characters in this book. Onery is older but still alive. Meggie is happy to be with her man and this life, though her cooking is still atrocious. Little Edith is sweet and already showing the bloom of Piggot’s side of the beauty. Jesse still plays fiddle as beautifully as ever and make people wonder about his talent. Jesse always had three ambitions in his life: to own a gun, a pack of good hunter dogs and to have a woman, possibly his own woman. As a full grown man, he has all the needs of a healthy young man, though these people don’t understand his needs and that how normal it is. Roe, who has been Jesse’s only friend for a long time now, once (in the 1st book) explained to him that it is perfectly normal for him to have sex or at least to want to have sex. Jesse wanted to visit some widow from down the mountains but on the course of the story it never came to pass. Roe fell in love and things happened and so Jesse never got the chance to do it. He’s still a virgin and still has his ambitions. Someday he will have those things. Anyway, soon he gets the chance to earn at least two of his ambitions, from Widow Althea Winsloe, who got married to Paisley 4 yrs. ago (story in the 1st book). He always had this special feeling for Althea, not sexual or romantic mind you, but in his own way. Althea has always been nice to him and so, when he gets this chance all of a sudden, Jesse is determined to earn his ambitions.

It’s been almost two years that Paisley had died in a freak accident and now the whole town is bearing down on Althea to remarry. It’s just about impossible to live in a mountain without a strong man to support a woman, and Althea isn’t alone in this, she’s got Baby Paisley, her 3 yrs. old son to think about. But Althea is determined never to marry again. She doesn’t want Baby Paisley to be robbed off a beautiful childhood as a step-son. Althea’s father abandoned her when her mother died and left these parts marrying another woman. She grew up sorta floating from relatives to relatives; ok to have but not really wanted by anyone, let alone much affection. She’s the quiet, introvert type. Her marriage to Paisley, who used to be a momma’s boy to the notorious busybody of the town Beulah, wasn’t a love match in anyway. It was ok, sex wasn’t bad but nothing special in any other way. Paisley was a weak character in many ways and married her for her dowry. Anyway, I have to give it that some of the reasoning the people gave her for remarrying was pretty good but I also understood her reluctance. Althea, at first, came to me as a strong character too but in the end, not quite so. The Piggotts and the Winsloes are always fighting over the supremacy over the town. Piggotts got the upper hands because the well-revered Granny Piggott and her husband settled in here before anyone else. Granny Piggott is still living, as good as ever. She was a great character but in this book, sometimes she proved to be as unreasonable as Beulah, who can’t stand Granny Piggott’s place in the community since she craves it for herself. But Beulah and her family isn’t the smartest and always after someone or the other just for the sake of it. And then, I saw many of the people are pretty small minded, which I didn’t quite see in the 1st book.

Beulah wants Althea to marry and keep her lands and other things inside the family and not pass to anyone else, most especially not to the Piggotts. Granny Piggott want the same too but it’s because she thinks Piggotts are superior in anything, from looks to their charms. The only thing that puts a scar in the Piggott history is Jesse’s simple-mindedness. Trust me this issue once came up in the story and I wanted to slap everyone who thought this way about him. Now, Althea keeps all to herself in a secluded spot, the Winsloe cabin where she lived with Paisley. She doesn’t want anyone’s help. I gotta give it to that she was a bit stubborn too and went blind to reasons to have her own way. Needless to say, she doesn’t like her in-laws (with very good reasons) and so, she doesn’t really want Baby Paisley to have their influence. When all these talks of marriage start, two beaus for Althea were also found. One is Eben Baxley, Beulah’s nephew. Eben was a disgusting piece of good-for-nothing for the better part of the book. He was mean, crude and downright cruel to people. He made me gag more than once and had me wanting to kill him so that he doesn’t ruin this book for me more than he already had. In the course of the story, we get to know that he’s got a past history with Mavis Phillips, the storekeeper Buell’s daughter. Eben had sex with her and left her on spot, thinking she manipulated this to make him marry her. She may have but she was genuinely in love with him and Eben was (still is) a skirt chaser with charms and good looks. A very young Mavis thought it’s the only way to have the man she wanted. Poor girl! Now as Eben comes back, he’s after Mavis, taunting her with cruel, disgusting words and insinuations and dirty propositions... secretly of course so that only she knows but can’t tell anyone about it. He just wants to hurt her, however he can. The other one is Oather, Mavis’s older brother. Oather is homosexual but of course, in the early 20th century, you couldn’t tell your folks about it, so he’s very confused about what to do. His father, Buell, is a total dictator and their family drama altogether, along with the whole courtship thing, took up a lot of the pages and distracted me more than once which left me in a pissy mood. As a result, Althea and Jesse had no romance to talk about, not until the last chapter. But this is NOT what I wanted for Jesse and I wasn’t happy at all. Oather doesn’t want this courtship but with Granny Piggott’s backing and his father’s pressure, he halfheartedly agrees to this. Another reason was, he knew what Eben did to Mavis and he won’t see this scumbag living near her for the rest of her life. This, Oather would do at any cost! Must say that I hated Eben but I really liked Oather.

As the courtship starts, Althea wasn’t very happy about it. One day, Althea kinda declares it in Buell’s shop that she’d sell Paisley’s dogs. It was mostly to show everyone that she leads her own life and on no one’s account. Paisley’s dogs are the best pack of hunting dogs and Jesse always wanted them. He worked with them once upon a time before Paisley was rejected from Meggie. Anyway, Jesse hears of this and he decides he would buy them. He talks to Althea immediately afterwards but he can’t pay for the whole pack. Althea offers him to work for her, mostly to prepare for the coming winter as she has no one else to help her. Jesse never shies away from work, no matter what it is and he readily agrees. Trouble is, Baby Paisley takes an instant disliking to Jesse. Then I read that not only the townspeople treated him a bit on the pity side, they also made Jesse out to be some kind of monster. WOW, that was something! I wanted to kill someone. Next day, Jesse shows up in his new work very early and catches Althea, who woke from her sleep to get the door, in her josie. Her ‘round parts’ certainly did catch his eyes and it was really adorable how he kept thinking of them and that how hard he gets whenever he thinks of Miss Althea’s round parts. Baby Paisley continues to show an active hostility towards Jesse, which embarrasses Althea. But Jesse being himself, he just took it all in with a smile. Soon her beaus start coming in and they did that for the most part of the book. What Oather and Eben basically did was, they took it as a competition; as in who could run out whom. They would squabble more often than not, almost coming to blows with each-other. Eben was ever the nasty, being mean to Jesse sometimes while he tries to honey up Althea (who actually knew he means nothing of it) and makes comments full of insinuations to Oather. This went on and on and on. In between, we see Eben making propositions to Mavis, hurting her and yet she stood tall and very resolute.

While Jesse works for Althea, he would also think of her in a different way. In his own way, he begins to understand that he wants her as a man would want a woman. Their relationship deepens, as in, Althea feels more comfortable with Jesse around. Although, like other people, she thought Jesse had a mind of a child, she soon finds out how wrong this was. Jesse worked through his responsibilities with utmost care and perfection. He is always learning to get things right, repeating them to himself but he never gives up. Most of all, you know it by his work that when he learns, he keeps it in his heart. Althea begins relying on Jesse and his opinions more and more. It made her see him in a different light, like his big and beautiful body, muscled with all the hard work, his handsome features and fairness and his good and sweet nature. To sum it up, Jesse would’ve been a total winner with the ladies had it not been for his shortcoming. But one day, while Jesse was up hunting meat for Althea, Baby Paisley follows him. The boy saw him hunting, which takes off the edge of his disapproval on Jesse, making him a hero of sort. They bond in that hunting. It was a sweet scene but I knew something is coming up. Jesse also felt something isn’t right but he couldn’t remember. He’s just happy to have this big buck which would definitely make Miss Althea happy. But as they come down, they find a frantic and terrified Althea who thought something horrible happened to her son. Jesse understands now that a 3 yrs old boy shouldn’t have gone out alone. Althea, ugh, she was so blinded by rage, she slaps Jesse and calls him a ‘feeble-minded fool’, thinking he took Baby Paisley without her permission. I blame Althea here, Baby Paisley was a bit spoiled. She should’ve known better. I was really mad at her and cried because it hurts Jesse more emotionally than physically. He’s heard people calling him many things over the years but coming from Althea was a big blow for him. It was good that It was good that Althea says sorry pretty soon afterwards, once she gets the truth out of her son. Then Jesse kisses her, it just came so naturally to him. Althea is stunned by her own reactions to it; she gets scared and asks Jesse never to kiss/touch her again. Poor honey is again heartbroken. :(

There were other incidents in the course of the story; we see more of Eben and Oather in Althea’s farmhouse and more of their squabbles. Then there’s the day of the Literary and the kangaroo court. In this day, the people come after Althea quite strongly. I also thought kangaroo courts were supposed to be fun but people here were really mean to Althea to make her choose from one of the two beaus soon. Althea has something to say in this too; she doesn’t want anymore kid and so, there won’t be any sex. Both Oather (for obvious reasons) and Eben (because he was already thinking of making Mavis his mistress) agree to that. It was surprising for me to see that some of the characters I genuinely liked in Marrying Stone coming off as quite shallow. Eben plays a vital role of manipulating things and Jesse so that the result goes his way. But Granny Piggott grants Althea 3 weeks before Christmas to make up her mind.  The next day, while talking to Jesse, Althea jokingly asks Jesse why he didn’t make an offer, stunning Althea again. *sigh* Jesse plainly tells her that he can’t go on a single day without making love to her. Then many people from the town visits Althea’s house for the hog butchering. Jesse would do hers as well as the ones from his home. As the work starts, Althea can’t take her eyes off of Jesse’s masculine beauty. Now remember, the courtship thing is still going on and Althea was still deciding between the other two. I was more than half way through at this point and kept thinking, oh man, when would I get to see something real between Jesse and Althea? Anyway, as the men work, Eben gets Mavis alone. Actually she was appealing to him to let Oather have Althea because of her father’s threats to Oather. Mavis would let Eben have his way with her if he does. Eben is mad that he still can’t get Mavis out of his mind. By then, I got to know a little bit of Eben’s life and felt I understood where all these were coming from. Eben was as vulnerable inside as they came! There were many issues I don’t have the space to discuss but he was mostly scared of falling in love with Mavis. Well, he actually was in love with Mavis but handled this ‘little problem’ in his own way or so he thought. Afterwards, Eben drags Mavis into the woods and... well, this was quite an intense scene, which changed my negative POV of Eben pretty much. It was also very clear that Mavis was still in love with him. All these made me think, again, that they should’ve had their own book and these issues should’ve been addressed and explored there. Their trouble was solved to some extent. Later in the story, Oather finally faces his father and decides to leave Marrying Stone to find others like him.

On the Christmas Eve, Eben knew he can’t really marry Althea because he wasn’t denying his feelings for Mavis anymore and so, he goes to tell her that. The book was already ending and I was yet to see any real romance between Althea and Jesse. You have no idea how frustrating that was for me! Anyway, Althea tells Eben that she’d chosen but it’s not him or Oather. And that night, when Jesse was making another sweet gesture for Baby Paisley to make the boy smile, Althea wakes up and finds him outside. Oh, I loved their interactions, when they finally got down to the business I wanted to see for the half of the book. The whole love scene and Jesse’s reaction to Althea was so very lovable... but it wasn’t enough to make me happy, if possible, it made me more frustrated and sad that the book ended the next day as she chose him and got married. There was another big surprise waiting for Althea, which Jesse and Baby Paisley did for her as a Christmas gift but I wasn’t interested in that. Overall, Simple Jess was a wonderful book but to me, solely for Jesse. He gets a 5+ star alone. I’m sure that my problem with the storyline won’t bug the others. I just wanted MORE romance between Althea and Jesse, more something... anything, even if it’s a few more chapters of their life together as a married couple. Just about ANYTHING at all. 4 stars but with all my heart, I can say that I’m already missing Jesse *muaah* and the rest of the characters of this series. *sigh*


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