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Book News

Reviewer: 'Into the Wilderness' is great escapist reading

'Into the Wilderness'
by Sara Donati

Bantam Books, $22.95

Review by Karen Austin

Web posted on: Thursday, August 27, 1998 5:23:07 PM EDT

(CNN) -- This is not the book you were supposed to read for your American Literature class, although it's peopled with folks like the Mahican sachem Chingachgook and his adopted son Hawkeye. In contrast to choking on James Fenimore Cooper's prose, reading "Into the Wilderness" is a guilty pleasure.

With a beautiful strong-willed heroine, a charming but somewhat dangerous hero, and an exciting setting, "Into the Wilderness" could easily have fallen into the bodice-ripper formula. It's saved from that fate by a large cast of engaging characters, intriguing subplots, and a great sense of time and place.

It's 1792. The story begins with Elizabeth, a 29-year-old spinster newly arrived in the wilderness after a life of ease living with her titled aunt in England. Before she even reaches her new home she encounters Hawkeye's son, Nathaniel Bonner. Elizabeth's father, a judge, owns the land Nathaniel's family always considered their home. Nathaniel, proud and plain spoken, still broods over the death of his wife several years ago. There's also the issue of Elizabeth's ne'er-do- well brother, her unwavering intention to build a school open to children of all races, and the persistent and somewhat fleshy suitor, Dr. Richard Todd -- the man her father has arranged for her to marry. The cliches of romance novels are here in abundance -- did I mention the wicked Jack Lingo, Elizabeth's inheritance, or the mystery of the Tory gold?

It's wonderful that the reader is provided with enough plot twists to keep pushing forward, but I suspect most readers will have figured out by page three which of the characters will be sharing pillow talk on the book's last page. Even so, I read the book cover to cover, snatching up chapters like chocolates eaten on the sly. Why? Because this is great escapist reading, that's why. While reading "Into the Wilderness" you can stride into the past, immersed in a wild land of untamed forests, of steadfast women in long skirts and men who look like Daniel Day-Lewis in a loincloth.

So go ahead, throw another log on the fire and curl up with a big, sweeping romance novel. I won't tell.

Karen Austin is a freelance writer and environmental activist based in Georgia.

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