Bookmonger: Prequel taps early 20th century for drama

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 3, 2014 

Recently, Bellingham-based historian and writer Janet Oakley has been traveling the state, delivering a Humanities Washington presentation on "Tree Army: The Civilian Conservation Corps in Washington State." If you have a chance to catch it, it is time well spent. It stems from the research she did for her Depression-era novel "Tree Soldier."

In that book, a young man gained courage and the love of a spirited outdoorswoman when he worked for the CCC in the North Cascades.

Now Oakley has written a prequel. "Timber Rose" is the story of that outdoorswoman's equally spirited mother.

In 1907, twenty-year-old Caroline Symington is one of two marriageable daughters in a prominent Northwest pioneer family. From Portland to Seattle, her parents have been searching for suitable matches. Her big sister, Sophie, is on the cusp of being engaged to an aspirational (perhaps grasping is a better word) young businessman from a good family.

But Caroline is more interested in climbing mountains with her hiking club and exerting her independence as a New Woman.

On a visit to her Uncle Harry in Seattle, Caroline meets Bob Alford, the enterprising son of Swedish immigrants. At first she masks her family connections so she can meet him without inserting an immediate social barrier between them, but when it becomes clear that their shared interests are leading them toward a serious relationship, she realizes she has to come clean with him.

Caroline's last name is almost a deal-breaker for Bob - his older brother had died in a logging accident that might have been prevented had the employer cared enough to institute safe workplace procedures. Caroline's uncle is chair of the board of that company, and Bob holds him responsible.

On the other hand, jealous of her fiancé's unbidden advances toward Caroline, Sophia betrays her sister's clandestine romance to the heads of the family, who are adamant that Caroline will never be allowed to wed someone from the working class.

Ultimately, love prevails. Bob and Caroline elope and move to the North Cascades, where Bob has been offered work as a forest ranger. They begin married life with new friends and the support of Bob's family.

But the stormy events that surrounded their marriage have caused a deep rift in the family, and matters only get worse when Caroline's uncle and others seek to log the forest that Bob helps to manage.

As with "Tree Soldier," "Timber Rose" is an involving yarn, filled with well-drawn characters, interesting historical nuggets, plenty of adventure and a dash of romantic spice.

Oakley does hit a couple of snags. One important family relationship in the story is handled clumsily. Also, there is too much reliance on one particular savior when things get sticky.

I read a proof copy of the book, where a number of things like typos and incorrect verb tenses still needed to be ironed out. Assuming those fixes are made, I think "Timber Rose" will prove to be a satisfactory read overall - particularly for female audiences.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com.

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