A few months back, a new release by Leila Meacham called Roses caught our attention and we rushed to download the book on to the nefarious Amazonian Devil Device. A Reader's Respite then promptly forgot all about it. We do this far too frequently these days. Perhaps it's
the booze a degenerative brain disorder caused by mold and dust in old books. Whatever the cause, the result is dozens and dozens of books purchased and then forgotten about, unread, until we stumble across them months - even years - later and find ourselves scratching our head and wonderding, "Now why the hell did we buy that?"
The story is one of those big ol' family sagas that cover a few generations of the same families. Set in Texas (isn't it an obscure literary rule that family sagas MUST take place in Texas?) in the early 1900s, the story follows three families in a small town --- their fortunes, their losses, their loves, their tragedies, two world wars (and one in Korea thrown in for good measure). You get the picture. We've heard it compared to The Thorn Birds and Gone With the Wind.
Meacham gets the saga part right, no doubt about it. Mary Tolliver, Percy Warwick and Ollie DuMont make for a perfect love triangle as the saga plays out....affairs, misunderstandings, untimely deaths. Meacham writes supremely well and gives us no cause for complaint.
So why didn't we like this novel?
Mary Tolliver. We hated her. It's impossible to like a character who makes stupid decisions for stupid reasons. We wanted to crawl into the pages and slap that woman silly. And all her descendants, too. The Tolliver Curse we kept hearing about throughout the book? We'll tell you what that curse was: stupidity.
Like Scarlett O'Hara, Mary had a love of the land and her family plantation...a love that eclipsed all common sense and rational thinking. So why did Mary drive us crazy and Scarlett endear us? Because Scarlett had a compelling reason - twisted, but compelling - for every action she took. We understood Scarlett. We may have been frustrated, but we always understood her.
So what would Scarlett have done in Roses?
She would have dumped the cotton as soon as it was no longer profitable, turned the plantation into a money making machine, shot Percy's dumb-ass wife to get her out of the way, married him and then made his sorry-assed life miserable while she reaped the rewards. No whining.