Wildwood Creek by Lisa Wingate
Two complete parallel story lines, one in the past and one in the present, make this historical romantic fiction a unique and intriguing book to read. Its heights and depths kept me interested to the end.
The prologue set the tone of the book from the beginning. The reader is introduced to Bonnie Rose O’Brian of 1861. She presents her packet of letters and credentials obtained from the missionaries and minister who have trained her to teach to the man behind the desk. When she looks up she notices that “his eyes are dark, deep…cold as winter nights in Chicago. He sees in me a whore in his saloon, not a teacher for his school. There is none of the grace of our Lord in this man. The position he is offering is one of few a girl soiled as myself might be considered for.” But she signs the contract
as Bonnie Rose, and at his urging leaves her surname, O’Brian, behind in the past. She would begin a new life for herself and her sister in Wildwood.
Once the book began in earnest in the present time period, we discover a parallel scenario. A young woman, Allie Kirkland, is applying for a summer job. The tone set in the introduction pervades. As she walks into the Berman Theater’s auditorium to await her turn for an interview, “the hairs on my neck stood up. The building was cavernous and shadowy. I felt something happening…I didn’t know what.” After awhile, she glanced up into one of the balconies and made out a form. “A man. Dark hair. Tall. Thin.” The one who was rumored to have signed up to produce the newest Mysterious History docudrama series. The psychological elements of the mini-series seemed to fit him. His works were strife with “dark psychological stuff that tended to explore the worst side of human nature.” But Allie didn’t know what that had to do with her. She was only applying for a summer job as production assistant.
The story continues on in the present vein with an occasional visit to the past. The two universes at first seem completely separate with no common thread until it was revealed that the mini-series was about a small community called Wildwood, whose history was intriguing because its inhabitants mysteriously disappeared. Wouldn’t you know that the summer job Allie and her roommate Kim were hired for was to re-enact life in Wildwood for the three months of filming, living on the actual site in as genuine a lifestyle as possible, sans technology, and sans anything that wasn’t invented by 1861. Allie was asked to play the part of Bonnie Rose, the community’s school teacher.
Then both story lines take on a life of their own, twisting and turning, heading off in directions I didn’t anticipate. Both stories race toward the conclusion where they suddenly converge and some of the mystery is solved.
I was impressed at the literary devices the author used to convey a dark atmosphere. Her descriptive language (foreshadowing) was highly effective. She uses parallel realities where both time lines share a female protagonist seeking work that serves as a turning point in her life. Both stories share a male antagonist whose hubris becomes a foil for the feminine character. Both timelines start with a deceptively simple premise which is quickly knocked off kilter by mysterious events. Both universes move from ordinary, to mystery, to ominous, and on to dangerous. In the final chapters suspense and tension is thick until both timelines reach the peak aptly accompanied by a violent thunderstorm and a threat to bodily harm.
There’s even a parallel in the conclusion, but I’m not going to tell you what that might be. I’ve already given too much away as it is. The element that impressed me most, however, was how the author achieved balance between the darkness and the light. For every hint of encroaching evil, there was a spot of light to ease the tension. For Bonnie it was usually with her sister Maggie May; for Allie it was with her roommate Kim. Tension relief was never too much lest the situation looses its drive toward the climactic conclusion. But it was enough to make the story soul satisfying as well as compelling.
Another thing I liked about the story’s balance is that while there is plenty of action, enough time is given to the characters to catch their breath and pause for timely reflection either to gather their wits or to learn something they had previously missed. Thus the story is not completely character driven nor is it completely action driven.
I’m sure this book will find its place on my favorites shelf where it will be read repeatedly.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from The Book Club Network on behalf of Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”