A Tender Wilderness Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of A Tender Wilderness

A tenacious female novelist and a reticent, aloof business owner challenge each other like nobody else has before and heal each other's emotional wounds, falling in love in the process. Set in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon to be precise), this isn't too bad as far as frontier ranch-land romances go. It's actually quite refreshing. Jessamine is a budding author in Portland, flush on the success of her debut novel about the Gilded Age in New York, and eager to write a new story inspired by her new home - the northwest. At a party, Jessamine's friend Dione points out one of the sponsors of their charity ball, a tall, dark man with sinewy arms and all those rugged almost-cowboy-but-not-quite characteristics that are perfect for a wealthy lumberjack, which is what Bensen is. Knowing about Jessamine's new idea for a novel, Dione tells her that Bensen is CEO of his family's lumber harvesting company, a company that has its roots in the Oregon Trail and the 1800s. Jessamine is so delighted by this information she barely heeds Dione's warnings (excitable, breathless warnings) about how dangerous and ruthless Bensen is, and how Jessamine should be careful in the way she approaches him, and to not let him seduce her. Because that's clearly what all busy CEOs do to women novelists, seduce them just for kicks. But then again, this wouldn't be romance-land if seduction wasn't the automatic conclusion.
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Bensen is aloof and cool at Jessamine's approach at the party and seems condescendingly amused by her request to let her interview him about the culture, customs, lifestyle and business aspects of the early lumber industry in America. He lazily agrees, although only after pointedly wondering why a little slip of a city woman would have any interest in setting a story in the lumber ranches. Jessamine bristles and then, to show how very thorough she is, also requests to see his family archives for further information. At this Bensen shuts down and coolly refuses, but grants the interview.

Their interview is polite enough to start but quickly gets more engaging as they appear to feed off of each other's interest in the subject of history, although there is also a not-so-subtle undercurrent of romantic and sexual interest that is also there. Despite his reclusiveness about his family's archives and personal history, Jessamine finds herself suddenly very attracted to Bensen's magnetism, his rugged good looks, and his strong will.

She cannot resist her curiosity about the inner workings of such a family, however. Jessamine's novel is about a lumber heiress in the late 1800s, similar in time period to her debut novel but different in location, and Jessamine tells herself that she needs to know as much as possible, never admitting to herself that what she really wants to learn more about is Bensen himself. Jessamine starts talking to family friends and retainers of Bensen's family, such as his groundskeeper Hank on the family estate, who takes a shine to Jessamine after she visits the property for her initial interview with Bensen. She begins to hear of the things that Bensen didn't want her to know, such as the fact that his grandfather divorced his first wife, married a maid, and died without writing a will, leading to an ugly estate battle between the first wife's two sons - the elder of whom was Bensen's father - and the second wife, the former maid. The judge awarded a large portion of the family wealth to the maid when it was discovered that Bensen's grandmother was also carrying on with an African-American on the side during the marriage, weakening her case with both infidelity during her marriage and crossing the race line that just wasn't done in society back then.

Bensen drives up to Jessamine's apartment and forces his way inside (in a way that would be extremely disturbing in real life and would result in a restraining order, but is portrayed as excitingly strong-willed and "dangerous" on print), demanding to know why she has been going snooping around in his family life. He warns her to mind her own business and stay away, and mockingly asks if his family is to be the model for her book. Jessamine promises to stop going behind his back, if he will open up to her himself. He laughs and refuses, but also tells her she is playing with more than she can handle and almost kisses her. Jessamine decides to coax it out of him. Over the next few weeks she gets to know Bensen better, walking through his land with him, visiting the old lumber yards and the current factory, and also riding with him and showing him that she is not the soft city girl he assumed she was. Bensen starts to grow closer to her and more trusting, but still holds back. The sexual tension simmers between them the whole while, leading to several close, almost-intimate encounters. When she attends dinner with his family, she notices at once the frostiness between Bensen and his mother, but Bensen becomes aloof and distant when she tries to ask him about it later. It is another family friend who yet again, spills the beans (this time to Dione, who then tells Jessamine) that Bensen and his mother have never been close, because she is all about herself. Bensen finds out again that Jessamine has been talking to people and furiously tells her to never approach his family or his friends again unless she wants trouble. Hurt and angry, Jessamine returns to Portland, surprised at how heartbroken she is and realizing that she only ever wanted to help him. She spends the winter trying to write her lumberjack novel and is constantly in tears, until one day, as she is shoveling the snow off of her car, a stranger appears, takes the shovel from her, and insists on doing it himself. It is Bensen, and she is shocked to see him, especially as he looks quiet and thoughtful. They go inside her apartment and he says he has missed her annoying presence, and that he ought to thank her for bringing up all the baggage in his life, because it helped him heal, and he communicates more openly with his family now than ever before. He realizes he needs a positive influence like that in his life, and that he cannot live without her beauty, etc etc. Very nauseating stuff, but Jessamine eats it up and returns it, and they end up happily ever after.
Best part of story, including ending: Not a bad story, and I enjoyed learning about the logging industry.

Best scene in story: When the old groundskeeper cooks up an elk steak while Jessamine visits his cottage to interview him. It's a very atmospheric scene, you can imagine it happening in that ranch-like setting.

Opinion about the main character: I liked Jessamine's tenacity.

The review of this Book prepared by Princess Peach a Level 10 Peregrine Falcon scholar

Chapter Analysis of A Tender Wilderness

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Plot & Themes

Time/era of story    -   1980's-1999 Difficult/unusual lover?    -   Yes How difficult?    -   domineering

Main Male Character

Profession/status:    -   business executive Age/status:    -   20's-30's

Main Female Character

   -   20's-30's Profession/status:    -   writer


United States    -   Yes The US:    -   Pacific NW

Writing Style

Accounts of torture and death?    -   no torture/death What % of story is romance related?    -   80% How explicit is the sex?    -   descript of kissing    -   touching of anatomy    -   Boob talk Focus of story    -   equally on him and her How much dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog

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Charles H. Cott and Christine Hella Cott Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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