The Bride Who Ran Away

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Set in Northern California and Nevada, this gentle novel follows Grace Dowell’s journey from self-absorbed adolescence to adulthood. At age nineteen, Grace has lived all of her life in French Ford, California, an isolated community founded by her ancestors. As a family, the Dowells have a long history of eccentricity, but two of Grace’s cousins, Steve and Indiana, show a darker side, leaning toward an almost existentialist despair.

Much older than Grace, Steve is engaged to her but seems compelled to put distance between her and his emotions, He alternates between intellectual posturing and cries for help so often that Grace is unsure of their relationship. Indeed, Grace’s main attraction for Steve seems to be as an antidote or barrier to his despair.

When Indiana commits suicide, Grace finally begins to question and examine her relationships with those around her. Feeling betrayed when she discovers Steve’s role in Indiana’s suicide, Grace decides to run away to give herself time to sort things out. She travels to Nevada, where she meets another fugitive from French Ford.

David McCracken, also age nineteen, ran away when he was in the third grade, but he kept in touch with Steve and had briefly met Grace. Now running from the law, he follows Grace and begins to travel with her. Gradually they become lovers and are married before returning home. There, Steve makes a final, tragic appearance, bringing an end to Grace’s innocence, but freeing her to move on to a more complete life.

Diana O’Hehir writes clearly and sharply delineates her characters. The reader is immersed in the sense of time and place, yet the sparse elegance of her language is not overdone. The result is an almost mythic feeling of a romance of old.