In Steel’s latest romance (Family Ties, 2010, etc.), a restrained anthropologist discovers her wild side while researching the life of a beautiful 18th-century Sioux Indian.
At 38, Brigitte is satisfied with life. She has an undemanding job in admissions at Boston University (where she is leisurely pursuing her doctorate); she has a comfortable relationship with archeology professor Ted; and her book on women’s suffrage will be finished…oh, someday. Then life interrupts Brigitte’s sleepy existence: Ted, going on a dig in Egypt, breaks up with her; B.U. replaces her with a new computer program; and suddenly the book she’s been working on for years seems pointless. Despairing all her lost opportunities (wasted time with Ted, dead-end job and that stupid book about women’s rights!) and that she may never have a family, she seeks comfort from her mother in New York. Her mother, an amateur genealogist working on their family tree, is at a dead end and persuades Brigitte to help. Their family traces their ancestors to 18th-century French aristocracy, but there are holes to be filled. Brigitte goes to the Mormon library in Salt Lake City and discovers not only an ancestral surprise, but a new direction for her life. It seems that their ancestor, the Marquis de Margerac, was married to a Sioux named Wachiwi. Finding out how she got from the Dakotas to the France of Louis XVI turns bland Brigitte into an adventurer as she follows the research trail to Paris and Brittany and meets Marc, a smart, dashing writer who helps with her research. Half of the novel belongs to Wachiwi, as she is kidnapped from her tribe, as she meets explorer Jean de Margerac and as he takes her back to France, where she eventually marries his brother. All this inspires Brigitte to write about Wachiwi and maybe move to Paris and allow herself to fall in love.
The two women’s stories are compelling—if only they weren’t weighted down by clichés and artless exposition.