Picks and Pans Review: Into the Wilderness

updated 08/31/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/31/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Sara Donati

When Elizabeth Middleton arrives in America in 1792 at the age of 29, she is happily resigned to being a spinster schoolteacher; then she meets Nathaniel Bonner, who, much like Natty Bumppo in The Last of the Mohicans, is a white man raised as an Indian. In addition to that rather baffling homage to James Fenimore Cooper, Donati borrows conceits and character names, such as Chingachgook, from the classic novel. At first, Donati's book appears to be derivative and ridden with clichés—what with the spunky heroine who can only be tamed by a virile frontiersman, as well as her noble, decidedly 20th-century mission of racially integrating her school-house. If you can hang on, though, the author builds a powerful adventure story, animating everyone—German villagers, slaves and Scottish trappers alike—in a gorgeous, vividly described American landscape. The erotic passages aren't bad either. (Bantam, $22.95)

Bottom Line: Slow-starter that picks up speed

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