Like a box of chocolates, this short novel by McCullough is seductive and satisfying; readers will want to devour it in one sitting. Set in the early 1900s in the tiny town of Byron, nestled in the Australia's Blue Mountains, it tells of the blossoming of Missy Wright, 33-year-old spinster and poor relation of the town's ruling family, the Hurlingfords. Missy, her widowed mother and crippled aunt live in genteel poverty, victims of the Hurlingford inheritance policy that gives riches and power to the male members of the family, who heartlessly abuse the women they dominate. Plain, painfully thin and doomed to dress always in serviceable brown, shockingly dark-haired in a clan of luminous blondes, Missy seems fated for da dreary future until a distant cousin, a divorcee, arrives from Sydney. Under her tutelage, Missy acquires spunk, hope and the means to a happy ending. This is an endearing tale, exuding an old-fashioned sentimentality, yet wittily told. McCullough indulges in gentle social satire, even as she uses the stock character of a mysterious stranger to introduce suspense and romance. As miniaturized in scale as The Thornbirds was vast, this first volume in Harper's new Short Novel Series again demonstrates the author's narrative skill. 100,000 first printing; $100,000 ad/promo; Reader's Digest Condensed Books selection; Literary Guild alternate; author tour. (April)
McCullough returns to Australiathis time in the years before World War Iin this diverting short novel. Her heroine, thirtyish spinster Missy, is a poor relation of the wealthy Hurlingford clan, who virtually own the town of Byron. The male Hurlingfords and their pampered wives have for years oppressed and defrauded those Hurlingford women unlucky enough to marry poorly or not at all. When mysterious Una arrives in town, however, she lights a spark of rebellion in repressed, downtrodden Missy. By novel's end Missy will have a husband, the oppressed will be rescued, and the oppressors neatly parted from their wealth and power. While the novel is riddled with sentimental cliches, Missy's transformation and the neatly ironic reversal of family fortunes are very satisfying. Recommended for popular fiction collections. Literary Guild dual selection. Beth Ann Mills, New Rochelle P.L., N.Y.