Woman On Top

'Desperate Acts' highlights hope for abused women.

Desperate Acts, by Jane Candia Coleman. Five Star, $25.95.

Those familiar with the historical novels and short stories of Southern Arizona's Jane Coleman will find Desperate Acts a little different. While it predates Doc Holliday's Woman and I, Pearl Hart by close to twenty years, spiritually they all have much in common.

Desperate Acts is the story of Nan Fletcher, an abused wife. Not in the conventional sense of a physically battered woman--Jake, her prissy college professor husband, is such a wimp he probably wouldn't even lift a finger to defend himself. Nan is abused in the emotional and psychological sense that we are beginning to understand more about. Jake is a control freak who demands perfection. Nan tries--and fails--to provide it.

The story evolves through Nan's gradual awareness and growth along with her teen-age son Jamie. When the two are sent on a Western vacation to a working ranch they meet Ben, who has suffered the death of one wife and the unfaithfulness of another. Ben is all the things Jake never heard of and wouldn't understand--decent, honest, caring and sensitive. Nan is torn between her attraction to Ben and her loyalty to Jake, but Jake ultimately pushes her, through Jamie, into a final rebellion.

Jane Coleman hails from somewhere around Pittsburgh, but she has become so well adapted to the West that she not only loves its physical beauty but grasps the underlying value system better than most natives. That's another part of Desperate Acts. You will even discover a beautiful section about the use of horses and other animals as therapeutic agents, something else we are just beginning to understand.

Those of you who have read Coleman's earlier works will find a lot of similarities between Nan and Pearl Hart and Big Nosed Kate. All are women who ultimately transcended their victim status and took charge of their own lives.

It took Coleman many years to get this work published and the story of lost manuscripts and replaced editors is a saga by itself. As to its purpose, she states: "I wanted to give courage to any woman who has been silenced by abuse, who has been effaced for whatever reason. We can change our lives for the better. What I hope I have done with this book is show the way."

Hopefully, it won't require a whole lot more stories like this one for the principle to take hold.

Jane Candia Coleman signs copies of her book at Barnes and Noble at the Foothills Mall, Sunday, April 29 from 2 to 4 p.m.