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Monday, July 26, 2010

Roses are red/Roses are white...

Reading this book
Will waste your whole night.

Leila Meacham

Grand Central, 2010

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the small east Texas town of Howbutker is run by three families. The Tolivers preside over the massive cotton plantation of Somerset, the Warwicks possess acres upon acres of timber and the DuMonts handle the retail stores in town. The story really begins when Mary Toliver, only 16 years old, inherits Somerset over her older brother and her mother. Miles never really wanted to run the plantation anyway, but Mary's mother is heartbroken over the slight and takes to her bed. Mary is secretly thrilled that Somerset is hers but the shunning by her mother is sobering and even worse, her brother ships her off to boarding school in order to smooth things over in the family.
When World War I erupts, Miles enlists, along with his boyhood friends Percy Warwick and Otto DuMont. Mary learns how to run the plantation while they are gone; when they return she and Percy fall in love. The big problem? Mary won't give up the plantation for Percy. Mary is adamant that she will never have room in her heart for anything but Somerset, yet they are undeniably attracted to each other and they cannot deny their passion despite their differences. Through a trick of fate, Percy and Mary are forced apart. The consequences of their separation vibrate throughout the years, giving rise to lies, deceit, secrets, and tragedies that their families must suffer through, until, ultimately, their decisions mean that families are broken apart and the infamous Somerset curse may be true after all.
This novel was almost a one cupcake review. After ten pages I asked my friend who raved about it if it would get better. After the first section (Mary's), I debated continuing through the forced metaphor of the roses, the continuing missed opportunities between Mary and Percy, the melodrama of the "Somerset curse," and of course, the blatant similarities to Gone with the Wind. But Percy's story was next, and I hoped in all innnocence that his part would steer the plot into something new and different. Alas, it was not to be. Whether you decide that Percy is a victim, a saint, a martyr or just stupid, he is not much more likeable that Mary. I understand the need for human foibles to move the plot forward, but both Mary and Percy do such irreversible damage to other human beings it's no wonder things turn out as they do.
But, hope springs eternal and to the author's credit, the last section is the best of the three (faint praise, I know). Rachel, Mary's great-niece, has some depth to her character -- and some principles to do the right thing. Despite some convenient plot twists (EVERYONE dies in an accident?), the last section also has some suspense (slight, but still!) and a bit of unpredictability (of course, who would expect EVERYONE to die?), which caused me to actually sit up and read a little more compulsively than I had the first two sections. (In fact, the first two sections took me the better part of a week to finish -- not my usual speed.) Saint Percy actually gets what's coming to him -- well, everyone gets what's coming to them, whatever that may be, which may or may not mean everyone lives happily ever after. I don't want to ruin the ending for anyone.
This is the author’s first novel.

Rating justification:
The last section moved it up from two cupcakes to three. I am nothing if not fair.

Other titles you may enjoy:

The Ravenscar Dynasty by Barbara Taylor Bradford (2007)
When Cecily Deravenel tells her eighteen-year-old son Edward of the death of his father, brother, uncle, and cousin in a fire, a part of him dies as well. Edward and his cousin Neville Watkins are suspicious of the deaths. They vow to seek the truth, avenge the deaths, and retake control of their family’s business empire.

Giant by Edna Ferber (1952)
This sweeping tale captures the essence of Texas on a staggering scale as it chronicles the life and times of cattleman Jordan "Bick" Benedict, his naive young society wife, Leslie, and three generations of land-rich sons.

Days of Summer by Jill Barnett (2006)
In the aftermath of a fatal car crash, Laurel grows up in a single-parent home and Cale and Jud Banning are raised by their grandfather, a situation that culminates years later in the Banning brothers' heated rivalry for Laurel's affections.

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