The Lovesick Cure
By Pamela Morsi
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Release Date: August 28, 2012
First, Jesse Winsloe lost a job she had held and loved for eight years, earth sciences teacher at Tulsa’s Lake Grove Middle School. Then, she lost her fiancé, principal of that school, who now expects Jesse to have lunch with him and his new wife to “clear the air.” It’s hardly surprising that the invitation pushes Jesse to go along with her mother and stepfather’s suggestion that she leave Tulsa and pay a visit to Aunt Will, her nearest paternal relative, who lives in the Ozark community of Marrying Stone, Arkansas, where Jesse’s father had grown up.
Aunt Will is Marrying Stone’s “granny woman,” valued for as much for her practical wisdom as for her knowledge of the healing properties of herbs, midwifery, and other folk remedies. She has retired from this role, sold her home, and moved to Onery Cabin, built by her great-grandfather, an isolated log cabin on a mountainside farm, accessible by automobile only with a four-wheel drive vehicle. Despite her retirement, people still approach her for “cures,” but Jesse doesn’t have to ask. Aunt Will, who “knows a lot about mending broken hearts,” volunteers a “plain and simple” cure for Jesse’s “lovelorn solitaries,” six nights of applying a foul-smelling poultice during the phase of the waning moon.
Erwin Frederick “Piney” Baxley, Jr. is a physician’s assistant who returned to Marrying Stone after he was licensed and set up a community clinic in the first floor of his home. Except for one day a week when a doctor holds office hours in the clinic, Piney provides the medical care for Marrying Stone. He is the single father of a seventeen-year-old basketball star. Piney loves his community and his son is the center of his life, but he’s wary of a relationship with a local woman since he’s a two-time loser at love with his former wife. Jesse reminds him that he is more than his job, more than the father of a teenager. They like one another, and a short-term friendship with benefits may be just what both Piney and Jesse need—or they may discover they need much more.
Readers familiar with Marrying Stone and Simple Jess, two of Morsi’s Americana romances from the 90s, will recognize the setting, although The Lovesick Cure is contemporary. In fact, the heroine’s gets her Ozark nickname “DuJess” from the old timers in Marrying Stone who still remembered Jesse Best when Jesse Winsloe was born and thus called her “Deux Jesse.” Morsi does a superb job in the new book with presenting Marry Stone in the 21st century, a place that has retained the uniqueness of a traditional mountain community but with touches such as Wi-Fi at the clinic, cell phones, Camryn’s Goth look, and Dr. Mo (Dr. Mohammed El Azziz) as reminders that even so isolated a place as Marrying Stone, Arkansas, has changed with the passing years.
Aunt Will’s story, its past and its present, is interwoven with the story of Jesse and Piney and, to a lesser degree, of Tree and Camryn. All of the characters have the genuineness and likeability that are typical of characters created by Morsi. I always end a Morsi book with the warm feeling that her characters have earned a place in my heart and in my memory.
There is a certain humor in Aunt Will’s cure for lovesickness. An empathetic reader will likely laugh and cringe at the help Aunt Will gives Jesse in removing the hardened poultice. And I think Piney’s informing Jess that the stench the cure left behind is unmistakable may be the first time I’ve seen an H/H relationship begin with the hero telling the heroine she literally stinks. But Jesse’s time with Aunt Will does effect a cure. When she first arrives, Jesse is filled with a mix of emotions, none of them good: “Jesse was bereft and embarrassed and confused. She was hurt and angry. And she hated the pity she saw in people’s eyes.” After a few weeks, she begins to realize that something was missing in her relationship with her former fiancé: “Their relationship had two speeds: ‘just friends’ or ‘in bed.’ And they had always done better with the former than the latter.” Piney completes her education in exactly what was missing.
Tree and Camryn’s story is real enough to make a reader with teenage children turn pale, and it’s also a bit of a gender twist since it’s the girl who is pushing for them to become fully sexually active. I found it easy to sympathize with Camryn’s fears that Tree will leave her behind and Tree’s determination to resist repeating his father’s mistakes. Tree’s relationship with Piney is another significant thread in this intricately woven narrative. Piney’s description of a parent’s responsibilities will strike home with many readers.
A father had to think about everything, consider everything. Piney understood that he had to view the “big picture” of his son. It was not enough to revel in his athletic achievements. Tree had to develop his intellect and his character, as well. He was going to go out in the world, and it was his father’s responsibility to see that he knew how to handle money, how to wash his laundry, how to change the oil in the car, and how to write a thank-you note in longhand. Tree needed to be helpful, kind and responsible. He also must be hardworking, determined, and principled. Coach Poule was free to enjoy Tree as a high school hero, a star athlete. It was Piney’s job to make sure those accolades were not going to be the sum total definition of his son.
With such a father, it’s no wonder Tree thinks of Piney as he does. “You don’t want me to end up like you. I have to tell you, that’s always been kind of weird to me. I hope I end up like you. In fact, that’s the one goal that I’m really sure about. I want to be as much like you as possible.” And their relationship has enough problems to keep things real. There’s believability, humor, and a bit of role reversal when Tree discovers the truth of his father’s relationship with Jesse.
Aunt Will is the richest character and the pivotal one. All the other characters are connected to her. She has the credible humanness of the other characters, but she is also an almost mythic figure in her wisdom and in the mystical power some believe her to possess. Her utterances at times have an epigrammatic quality.
“It’s a point of wisdom to know that life is always going to feel like an uphill grade, even now when you’re on the downhill slope.”…… “It’s best to live in the here and now. . . .”
“And wring all the happiness you can find out of what you have.”
When the doctor, concerned about Aunt Will’s health, urges her to treat her body like spun glass, she laughs and tells him she’s never been spun glass. “I’m more the galvanized wash bucket kind of gal,” she says. I’d say she’s pure gold, and the best part of Pamela Morsi’s new book.
Morsi writes quiet books, and their sensuality level is mild. If you limit your romance reading to high adventure and scorching heat, The Lovesick Cure is not for you. But if you like your characters warm and real with a convincing mix of flaws, foibles, and genuine goodness and your fictional worlds similar to something you might find around a few twists in the road or halfway up a mountain, you will enjoy this book. It’s not the best Morsi has written. It lacks the catch-in-the-throat, punch-in-the-heart quality of some of her most highly praised books, but it is a very good book and one I definitely recommend.
I admit to an abiding affection for quiet books. How do you feel about them? Do you prefer books in which big things happen at dependable intervals?