What happens when a half-Apache teenager is orphaned and his non-Apache aunt comes to the reservation to adopt him? That question is what kicks off the plot in The Marriage Basket. Hunter Blackwell, the half-Apache godfather, is put in charge of explaining to Rina Roberts, the grieving aunt, that she canít adopt her nephew, Billy.
Federal and tribal laws have ruled that children are not to be adopted by non-Apaches. But Rina, who has given up her job and come to Texas and the reservation to work out any problems Billy might have, is in no mood to listen to any explanations that leave her him. Hunter and Rina battle their growing attraction to each other while they fight over what is best for the boy.
I have to confess - - both Hunter and Rina ended up irritating me. I believed they were attracted to each other. I believed they were both good people. They started off having some potentially important discussions with each other about the difficult situation Rina and her nephew were in. However, although each one says they want to see the other personís side, they just donít. I had to wonder how hard they were really trying.
Still, I was doing fine suspending disbelief (although it did occur to me the reservation and the people on it seemed a little too wonderful to be believed) until the tribal court session. Billy has run away and stolen a car, giving his old grandfather a heart attack in the process. The tribal judge is dispensing justice after Billy has spent a night in jail when Rina jumps in and demands that Billy be put in her custody. Hunter, in turn, says Billy can stay with him. Rina gets very upset, feeling that Hunter has betrayed her one chance to get custody.
That is where the story lost credibility. Rina had been spending lots of time waiting for Billy to show up from his stay with his grandfather. She had been busy learning the ways of the reservation and its people. Why didnít she spend a few hours with a lawyer or tribal judge to find out what her legal rights to custody were? (From what I gather in the story, they are zilch.)
If she had bothered to try to find out if she could get custody she would have no reason to feel betrayed when Hunter steps in. But by then I was bothered with Hunter, too. He is attracted to Rina, of course, but since his white mother and fiancťe were cruel to him, he has decided no woman is to be trusted. He doesnít seem to move on beyond that until he realizes Rina is angry with him.
And I think the author missed a great chance to work on Billy -- when Billy shows up, heís obviously troubled and needs some help. Instead, the story closes soon after that with Billy happily ďtradingĒ his aunt for a car when Hunter comes to make a traditional wedding proposal (which includes bringing presents to the prospective bride-to-beís family in a wedding basket.) What message are we getting here?
A big problem is that the story struggles hard to be fair and non-judgmental to all sides but ends up just annoying. This story brings up a serious subject, which could have been explored with a lot of give and take on both sides. Among other things was the question how Billy felt about being raised by his aunt vs. the folks on the reservation. No one seems to even consider his feelings. In the story, people seem to present their view of what should happen and then ignore any other possible solution to the problem -- until Billyís grandfather presents an obvious solution that sidesteps the issues of who family is, what rights people have in children and who should decide those issues.
Iíll give the author points for trying to tackle a big question, but I have deduct a lot of points for her failure to give any real answers.
--Irene D. Williams