The Minister's Wife by Delia Parr
(St. Martins, $5.99, G) ISBN 0-312-96650-4
***
The Minister's Wife is a well-written story with some very nice, very honest moments. The problem with this tale is that there just isn't enough story in the story line to keep this book moving. Too much time is spent covering the same territory, over and over again. In addition, there's a grim, dark side to this book; readers looking for lighthearted entertainment may want to look elsewhere.

Emilee Greene is the minister's wife and a pillar of her small town in upstate New York, circa 1833. For Emilee, her position is one of enormous importance. The whole town looks to her for guidance, to set an example for appropriate behavior. Emilee's background and her sense of responsibility brought her to this marriage and she takes her role very seriously. She is determined to be the perfect helpmate to her husband.

But Emilee quickly learns that her husband is not the gentle, soft-spoken man she thought she was marrying. Mr. Reverend Greene abuses Emilee and she hides her pain and her husband's instability from everyone, supporting her husband in all things.

Returning to his hometown after years of self-imposed absence, Jared Burke intends to raise roses and take care of his mother. Bitterness toward his father, the former pastor of this small town, drove Jared away. Now he is back to settle down, raise the roses he loves and make amends to his mother for all the years spent apart. Jared notices the pretty minister's wife, but unlike others, he also recognizes the sadness under her smiles.

When his mother's home burns to the ground, Jared and his mother have no choice but to take shelter with the Greenes. Living under the same roof feeds the flames of the attraction that Jared and Emilee have for one and other. They try to fight their feelings, feelings that go deeper than mere attraction and which threaten to destroy Emilee's unassailable position as the minister's wife.

Historical romances are often written with a 20th-century mind-set; that is, characters have the attitudes and convictions of persons living now instead of more than 100 years ago. Ms. Parr deals expertly with the time period; she really understands and conveys the feelings of her characters, what they believe and how those beliefs affect their actions.

It's difficult not to be impressed with the author's honest rendition of the trials and tribulations of Emilee and Jared. Then again, besides the forbidden attraction/love between the hero and heroine, this tale revolves very slowly around two basic issues: Emilee's background and Jared's problem with his father. Even with the very fine writing, there just isn't enough in the plot of The Minister's Wife to sustain a full-length romance.

--Judith Flavell


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