(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Olive Burns stated that in Cold Sassy Tree she wished to "express the lyric wonder and electric yearning between two people in love." Cold Sassy Tree is first of all a romance. Rucker's life with the late Mattie Lou and his current courtship of Miss Love reveal great depths of commitment, care, loyalty and passion. In their thirty-six years of marriage Rucker and Miss Mattie Lou experienced the companionship, devotion and kindness that grow out a life together. The couple endured the hardships of difficult childbirth and early child death, with only two of seven children reaching adulthood. These traumas, however, scarred their marriage and thwarted their intimacy, resulting in an eventual loss of desire. Still Rucker's love and respect for Miss Mattie Lou shines through as he repeatedly credits her for any good thing that exists in him.

The premise of the union between Rucker Blakeslee and Love Simpson was that of a marriage of convenience; she agrees to look after Rucker and his home and in return he deeds her the house and furnishings. Miss Love's motive for choosing this celibate cohabitation remains a mystery even to Rucker until he declares his desire for her. He confesses that his love for her began while Miss Mattie Lou was still alive, a fact which tormented him during his wife's fatal illness. In his persistence to know why she will not have him, Love reveals to him the wounds of incest. After the novel's "moment of truth" when each discloses the guilt and shame that they have borne in secret, their relationship assumes new depth. The growth of their love brings renewal and healing to both characters. Miss Love's presence in Rucker's life revives his spirits and he proves himself more...

(The entire section is 703 words.)