What happens when an author names her hero Truman? The obvious. Her reader has the plain, geeky, tight-lipped 33rd U.S. president floating in her head as she tries tries tries to conjure the magically engrossing experience that reading a romance novel brings. A woeful, bespectabled, steel-haired figure intrudes into the narrative space. Thus it was with Brenda Novak’s Through the Smoke and her strangely-dubbed hero, Truman. There might be an allegory there, you say? Truman Stranhope, Earl of Druridge, is a True Man, a loyal man, a good man, a steadfast and loving man? Actually, as Miss Bates argues below, more a nonentity.
In her note to the reader, Novak says that her girlhood reading of Jane Eyre informs her return to historical romance, “I love the gothic feel, the air of mystery and … the heart-pounding romance.” Indeed, Miss Bates recognizes that Jane-Eyrean elements are in Through the Smoke: a mysterious hall named Blackmoor, a fire, a scarred hero, the nefarious wife-figure, an ingenue heroine true to her convictions and spunk-full, the cross-class nature of the protagonists’ relationship … even the housekeeper privy to the socially transgressive affair of hero and heroine. It’s all there. And, Miss Bates’ expectations rode high … as she willed herself not to flinch every time she read the hero’s name.
Continue reading to learn how Novak’s novel held up