Buxton, a rugged community on an inhospitable North Carolina island, has difficulty keeping a school teacher. Mariah Deekins Sawyer can't get a job teaching because of the scandal after the sudden deaths of her parents. Her father was married to a woman committed for insanity, not to her mother. Mariah is illegitimate. She loses her friends and inherits nothing, losing a life so pampered she has few skills for taking care of himself. She can't even cook.
Widower Waite McKenna keeps the lighthouse on the island and makes it clear he does not also take care of schoolteachers' problems. He knows Mariah will be as unhappy and defeated by hardship as the city-bred women before her, including his own wife. But Waite can't ignore Mariah, for more reasons than the fact that his own wild teenage son is one of her first problems.
The isolated island, its storms of nature and culture, are well-crafted and evocative. However, the real pleasure is the gentle victory of a woman who wins a new life and the rewards of love by refusing to feel sorry for herself despite her misfortunes. SENSUAL(Aug., 384 pp., 5.99)