Of late there has been a fascination with supernatural romance --
stories, in print and/or film, where love is strong enough to reach
from the "other side" to earthly reality. "Ghost," "What Dreams May
Come True" (from a twenty-year old novel of the same name), the remake
"City of Angels," all are based on the wishful
premise that true romantic love can cross the Great Divide that lies
between life and the hereafter. In Janice Graham's debut novel,
sophisticated woman falls reluctantly in love with cowboy, making
Firebird a cross between "Ghost" and The Horse
Whisperer. It is a book, in other words, tailor-made for
Ethan Brown is a small-town lawyer and rancher in Kansas, building a dream for
himself amidst the rugged beauty of the Flint Hills. Engaged to the
daughter of the county's biggest landholder, Ethan is remaking a life to
replace the one that ended with his divorce. Katie Anne Mackey loves
the land as much as Ethan, but sometimes he finds himself unhappy with
her reluctance to speak of painful matters of the heart or of things
greater than what country band will be providing the weekend's dance music
down at the South Forty.
Annette Zeldin is a famed concert violinist, a divorced mother who has spent most of her
adult life living in Europe. She is drawn back to the Kansas she never loved
by the fact of her mother's death. Accompanied by her own young daughter,
she plans to stay in Cottonwood Falls just long enough to get her mother's
estate and her estranged father settled. Ethan Brown is Annette's mother's
estate lawyer, and from their first meeting sparks fly. Both believe that
they have taken an instant and intense dislike to the other, but come to
see that they have a few things in common to balance their majority of
opposites. Especially important to each is their shared love of the nineteenth-century
poets, Wordsworth and Yeats.
Annette's father, a bitterly stern retired Methodist minister, refuses
to let the proceeds from the sale of his wife's land to go to anything
but a trust for Annette's daughter, Eliana. Annette desperately needs
the money to maintain the life she has built for herself and her daughter in
France. She decides to stay until the spring, hoping that her father
will soften. Ethan's friend Jer and Annette begin a tentative dating,
and Eliana is elated at the prospect of having more time to spend with
Jer's adopted showhorse. Ethan finally sets a wedding date for himself
and Katie Anne, but he finds his grudging respect for Annette growing
first into friendship, then suddenly and unexpectedly into love.
Ethan and Annette must give up much to be together. Ethan risks the
wrath of Katie Ann's father, a man powerful enough in the community to
ruin Ethan's ranching dreams if he wishes. Annette would have to give
up her life in the country that has become her true home to stay forever
in a land to which she has never wanted to return. Each is willing, though,
for the love they have discovered together too strong to resist. But
as Ethan prepares to leave Katie Ann for good, she gives him news that
sets everything else on a back burner: she's pregnant, and she is absolutely
going to keep the baby.
Ethan returns to Katie Ann, but he can never go back to life as usual.
He buries himself in his law work and in working cattle and the land,
leaving as little time as possible to actually consider his situation.
He stops seeing Annette cold, not even telling her the reason for his
abandonment. With spring's arrival, Annette prepares to leave Kansas
forever while Ethan and the Mackeys start the annual prepared burns, fires
set intentionally to renew the life cycle of the prairie. A final
farewell to her mother puts Annette in the path of a fire blown out of
control by the wind, throwing her and Katie Anne together in a fateful
and deadly dance of rebirth.
This is definitely a novel in two acts. The reality-drenched first
half segues unevenly into the unabashedly supernatural second half,
throwing the reader for a jarring loop midway. After recovering from
that jolt, though, Firebird ultimately satisfies, making
nothing easy for Ethan or for the women he has loved. It's a story of
possibilities sure to appeal to lovers of doomed romance.