A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: Don’t Forget to Smile by Kathleen Gilles Seidel

on August 17, 2022

CN: Use of “g” slur, mild disordered eating, maybe some ableism? I’m not sure.

The theme: Blue collar

Why this one: My TBR has several Seidel books and she seemed likely to have a good option.

An extremely vague and not particularly accurate blurb indicated this would be a good blue collar read: a romance between Tory, who owns a bar catering to loggers in Oregon and Joe, who’s from a logging family. It turned out to be more complex than that, but even more interesting for it.

Joe, previously just another of the Brigham clan, comes to Tory’s attention when her bar is held up by two armed and unnerved kids who have not thought things through at all. Thanks to his good sense and calm manner, everyone escapes unscathed and the hapless robbers are caught. Joe begins using Tory’s bar to conduct delicate union talks and the two strike up a friendship, which leads to more. But Tory is dismayed when Joe decides not to move to Portland to further his career — he won’t leave his young son, who lives with his ex-wife — and even more dismayed when he asks her to marry him.

Tory and Joe are perhaps both blue collar with an asterisk. (Lol! I spelled this “asterix” and didn’t understand why spellcheck thought that was wrong.) Tory is a former beauty queen who was “the perfect Southern coed–and now one hell of a fine bartender. Other people might think that was coming down in the world, but Tory didn’t. Not even close.” Having spent her life being a dress-up doll for her mother and then a trophy wife, Tory relishes her independence and success. She has also, without exactly realizing it, created a new family with her employees.

Joe is one of a large family who all have pretty much the same name and the same life. But having gone from logging to mill work to being a financial secretary for the union, he’s just starting to realize that he has the skills to move much further. And that can easily make him in outsider, or at least an outlier, in his community. It already cost him his marriage.

“It was the union business–how involved he was getting. It took all his time. He was on every committee there was, and then they started sending him to Portland for these deals–leadership training seminars, they called them. He would be gone a couple of days, and Marianne really didn’t think that was right. I couldn’t figure it out myself. She never said a word about hunting trips and still doesn’t if Dennis goes on them now. I can’t say that I see the difference between going hunting and going to Portland, especially if someone else is paying for Portland.”

Tory smiled as if she agreed, but she didn’t. She could see the difference. This was a blue-collar town. Most people still thought of life as a struggle; work and family life took enough out of a man, why take on more? Lots of women around here didn’t think people ought to stick their necks out; it was asking for trouble. Joe’s wife probably worried that his union work would somehow all end terribly, with him out of work, them poor, and their baby going to sleep hungry.

Such attitudes kept the town the way it was–pleasant, safe, and, to a half-outsider like Tory, unspeakably bland. No one sunk, no one soared.

This is one of the main themes of the story–getting the tools to soar, if you want to. It can easily be interpreted as classist or snobbish, but I found it layered and understanding enough. Part of Tory’s journey is understanding Joe’s point of view and his desire to stay connected to his family.

It can also be easily interpreted as mischaracterized as romance. Joe and Tory’s relationship definitely takes a back seat during the last section of the book, which is about her family relationships. And the earlier section concentrates much more on his feelings for his ex-wife than many readers will be comfortable with. But I found it rich and interesting and not the same-old story. And a pro-Union hero to boot! They should reissue the cover with a “Jorts-approved” badge.


3 responses to “TBR Challenge: Don’t Forget to Smile by Kathleen Gilles Seidel

  1. azteclady says:

    “Jorts approved” should totally be a tagline (and a tag category–makes note for own blog)

    Going strictly by the quoted part, it sounds like there’s more than a bit of romanticizing of small towns where everyone struggles to survive. It may look “pleasant, safe” but I doubt it would be so for those living there and pressured to “never soar”. Never mind small towns being ‘bland’. (Mind you, I’m going by my reading experience here, which is problematic on its own.)

    • willaful says:

      I don’t think so; there’s a subplot about Joe’s ex stretching his child support to feed the whole family because her husband’s business failed. There’s a definite awareness of being close to the edge, which is why people are anxious and risk averse.

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