Iím a sucker for marriage of convenience stories. I also enjoy watching seemingly mismatched couples spar their way to a happy ending. Thus my attraction to Janet Bieberís tale of love in early 19th century Cleveland. Yes, the author manages to make ďthe mistake by the lakeĒ a romantic place. (Please excuse my prejudice; what can you expect from a Pittsburgher!)
The prologue introduces us to the characters as the family of Ian Patterson walks down the aisle of Grace Presbyterian Church, to the disapproving glare of its minister, the Reverend MacPherson. The preacher proceeds to blast Ian for his sinful ways, ignoring the fact that he is MacPhersonís son-in-law and his churchís chief benefactor. John MacPherson, a man of extreme rectitude and strictness, disapproves of Ianís drinking and smoking and other unmentioned but implied sins. That Ianís wealth allows his beloved daughter Lily to live in luxury and supports his own ministry does not sway the reverend from his duty to reprove sinners.
Just a few weeks later, the Reverend MacPherson must preside over his daughterís funeral, as he buries her and her stillborn child. Lily leaves behind four young children, three grief stricken sisters, and her bereft parents. The solemnity of the moment is threatened when the local artist throws himself on her grave, lamenting the loss of her
When Ian and the children return to their lavish home on Euclid Avenue, he discovers that Lilyís oldest sister, Valeriana, has come to stay. This does not please the widower. Valeriana is as rigid and disapproving as her father, having been trained and educated in his way of thinking. But his orphaned children love their aunt and need her. So he accepts her presence in his life, however reluctantly.
Valeriana, or Ana as she is known, could have been an unsympathetic character. Indeed, it is possible that some readers will recoil from actions and attitudes. She is a staunch advocate of prohibiting the use of alcoholic beverages in any form, has made duty her life, and is decidedly anti-Catholic. In short, she is a woman of 1834. She is also well educated, intelligent and loving to her nieces and nephews. Moreover, she is a strikingly attractive woman, although she has no idea of her own appeal.
Ana does not know what to make of Ian Patterson. She has heard her father rail against him and had listened to her sister complain of his behavior. But living in his house gives her a very different view of the man. He is a devoted and caring father, a man of considerable learning, charming and thoughtful, and as handsome as sin. He arouses
in her feelings that she simply doesnít understand.
Ian does understand the unexpected feelings that Ana rouses in him, although he is stunned to discover that he is attracted to this woman who is the antithesis of his wife in every way. When her fatherís unbalanced actions threaten Anaís reputation, Ian surprises both her and himself by offering marriage. Ana agrees to his suit, because otherwise she will lose the children she loves so much. But she wants a marriage
in name only.
How these two seemingly ill-matched people discover that they are indeed meant for each other is the essence of In Name Only. Ana, freed from her fatherís influence, begins to see the world and herself very differently. She also learns the truth about her sister and her marriage.
I liked this book a lot. What I especially appreciated was the sense of time and place that the author brought to her story. I truly felt that Ian and Ana were people living in 1834, that their actions and reactions were those of 19th century characters, not 21st century folks transported to the past. I enjoyed learning about life in Cleveland when it had just moved beyond being a frontier town and was becoming a bustling lake port. I liked all the little details that Bieber included about what life was like in early 19th century America.
But above all, I liked Ana and Ian and their love story.