After losing her parents, Gail Desmond was all alone in the world. She found a position as a traveling companion to an older wealthy lady, but the lady's selfishness makes it a rather miserable job. No sooner do they set sail on a cruise than the ship founders in a storm. Her self-absorbed employer hops into a lifeboat, leaving Gail on board a sinking ship. With the last of the lifeboats gone, she has no idea what to do until she encounters a man whose quick thinking saves her life. He manages to get Gail off the ship to safety, but he is badly injured when he jumps into the water after her. Gail pulls the unconscious man onto her makeshift raft and holds tight to him throughout the night in the raging storm until they float into shore the next day. There she finds him medical help, using her own meager funds to pay for the doctors. She nurses him through a long convalescence, during which she begins to fall in love with him, but when he is recovered and a newspaper article sends him speeding back to the city, Gail believes there was nothing between them to begin with. Brokenhearted, she goes on her way as well, not knowing that her beloved Clinton Benedict loves her too and will move heaven and earth to find her again.
I recall reading a few of Grace Livingston Hill's books in my youth, but I probably haven't picked one up for more than twenty years. So Out of the Storm reintroduced me to her work all over again. In all honesty, if this was a more modern romance, I would probably be judging it a bit more harshly, because it does have it's weaknesses, which I'll get to later. But I'm making allowances for the differences in writing styles from nearly a century ago. This alone made it a rather interesting study, as does the viewing of the historical story through the eyes of someone who lived during that time. So while there were several things I thought could have been better, it was still a pretty enjoyable read.
As an only child, Gail is all alone in the world, having lost both her parents somewhat recently. She took a job as a lady's companion, but her employer is selfish and difficult. They go on a summer ocean voyage, but not far into the journey, the ship founders. Here, I had to admire Gail for keeping a cool head in a crisis, especially after her employer hops into a lifeboat, leaving Gail to her own devices. Her calm demeanor still stands as a man who is a stranger to her straps her to a makeshift life raft and casts her over the side, then jumps into the water himself. When he is hit by falling debris and knocked unconscious, Gail saves his life by pulling him onto the raft and holding tightly to him throughout the storm until they eventually float into shore. Once she finds shelter for them, problems still arise, but Gail handles each one with grace. She nurses the man for many weeks after, always watching over him like a mother hen, as well as reading to him from the Bible and praying for his recovery. Gail was a brave, kind, and compassionate woman who I liked, but in her fear that he doesn't return her affections, she does make one really huge mistake. Who knew the "big misunderstanding" as a conflict device was alive and well even back then.:-)
Clinton also proved to have a cool head in a crisis to have saved Gail's life like he did. But after that, for quite a ways into the story, he's either unconscious or too weak to talk much. Eventually we find out that he, too, is alone in the world, but he was recently enamored of a young lady. He'd gradually come to realize that she was a selfish and vain creature, and that he was no longer certain of his feelings for her, so he went on the cruise to think things over. When he awakens to find that the woman whose life he saved has in turn saved his, he is more than grateful. Over the weeks they spend together, he can't help wondering how he ever could have believed himself in love with the other woman, because Gail is his dream woman. He falls madly in love with her, but when he sees an engagement announcement in the newspaper for his old flame who believes him dead, he knows he must go and put that relationship to rest once and for all before telling Gail how he feels. Of course, Gail misconstrues his actions and runs away before he can return, leaving him heartsick. Clinton is a wealthy businessman, and I thought it very romantic that he hired investigators to try to track her down and even went to New York several times himself to follow up on leads. He was determined to find her no matter what he had to do and no expense was too great to get her back.
Now for the weaknesses I mentioned. The relationship building between Clinton and Gail is minimal at best and extremely chaste. They don't even kiss. For the majority of the story, they're either apart or Clinton is unconscious, and when they are together, most of the details of their falling in love are skimmed over. They don't really have any in-depth conversations that would have added to the budding romance. That said, though, there were a few moments where I could feel the emotions passing between them, and as I already mentioned, Clinton's dogged search for Gail was in and of itself romantic. Therefore, for those reasons, I still believed in their love for one another.
Outside of the relationship, my issues mostly have to do with the way in which the book was written, which is very different from modern romances. Much of the story is told in narrative prose, sometimes stepping into the omniscient. As writers nowadays, we're told to show don't tell, but there was quite a bit of telling here. When the author does use dialogue, it's written in an almost stilted, rather formal way, that's unfamiliar to my modern ear, or sometimes, one character will monologue for several paragraphs. Also sensitive readers should be aware that there is an African American character who is basically the stereotypical Southern mammy complete with a thick accent that sometimes makes her seems unintelligent or uneducated. Most of the time, I could make out what she was saying pretty easily but occasionally, I couldn't figure it out. Also there is one brief passage where it flat-out says that women are helpless creatures who need men to take care of them, which kind of made me chuckle. These things didn't bother me overmuch, because these elements were nothing more than a product of their time and it would be unfair to expect the book to reflect a modern mindset.
The faith message was present throughout, but for the most part, it didn't push my buttons. It's mostly limited to the characters praying, reading the Bible, and generally trusting God to help them work out their problems. The only thing that made me slightly uncomfortable was that when Gail was flat broke and needed a job quick, she took one as an actress in a movie, a decision she deeply regretted later, though why, I'm not really sure as she didn't do anything immoral or unethical during the filming of it. Still, throughout her time working on the film, she feels incredibly guilty, and the film industry in general is portrayed as being an immoral place. The director of the film doesn't tell Gail the entire gist of one scene she's acting in until it occurs, leaving her completely freaking out when the actor playing the villain behaves in a predatory manner toward her. This is in spite of the fact that it never even mentions him laying a finger on her, yet she beats the crap out of him. In this way and a few others, the story could sometimes devolve into a bit of melodrama, which might not be everyone's cup of tea.
Overall, though, Out of the Storm was an interesting book to read if for no other reason than to get a taste of how authors wrote in the past, as well as for that birds-eye view of what life was like back then, rather than the sanitized version that's often infused with our own modern sensibilities. There's nothing wrong with that, but occasionally it's nice to get the real deal. So I enjoyed Out of the Storm for its historical significance. And even though the romance isn't developed in the same way modern romances usually are, there was a certain charm to it that made me believe in the HEA anyway. Perhaps I'm giving the author a pass because of fond memories of reading her work in my youth, but I don't think that's the only reason. Next time I'm in the mood for a romance with this kind of flavor, I'd gladly pick up another of Grace Livingston Hill's stories.
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