Friday, July 18, 2014

"Roses," a novel about forgiveness

Unintended Consequences of Secret-keeping

A followup to "Somerset," I read "Roses," in chronological order rather than the order these 2 books by Leila Meacham were written and published. Finishing the combined 1216 pages between the 2 books in less than 2 weeks, I read the last 100 pages or so last night. Now what? I need to talk about it.

Like "Somerset," this book puts forth complications set in motion by people who keep secrets. "Roses" ends neatly, with loose ends tied like a bow rather than an unraveling mess. Novelists can sort out the messy business of life and leave the reader satisfied by the way things work out, despite disappointments along the way.

Secret-keepers, in this case characters who think they can control others and effect outcomes to suit themselves, encounter unforeseen complications that hurt those they intended to protect. I'm trying not to spoil the plot. I guess you could say, I'm keeping secrets. 

But as a friend of mine says, "It's never right to do wrong."

An Emblem of Forgiveness

I especially like the use of roses, emblems of the two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet, Lancaster and York, who were ancestors to the Tolivars and Warwicks. Their common history provided the foundation for the lives these families carved out in East Texas.
“The red and white rose, what else? They will be a reminder of my duty to our friendship, to our joint endeavors. And if ever I should offend you, I will send a red rose to ask forgiveness. And if ever I receive one tendered for that purpose, I will return a white rose to say that all is forgiven.”
The point of the story saga is that each and every character needed forgiveness for something they had done that hurt someone else. In some cases a person is the offender and in other cases, that same person was the offended. Like Paris, forgiveness is always a good idea.

When I finished reading "Roses," the Lord's Prayer came to mind … forgive us AS we forgive others. "As" means, in the same way, and to the same extent. In effect, we create our own measuring rod for forgiveness by the way we forgive others.


A red rose extended to ask for someone's forgiveness and a white rose to grant forgiveness, the color pink was eschewed, representing unforgiven. A character in "Roses" chose pink to send the message, in effect saying, I will never forgive you. Only the irony is that the one who chooses not to forgive someone else remains unforgiven.

That particular character leaves a vivid, haunting picture of their unwillingness to forgive, showing how bitterness and resentment destroy a person who refuses to forgive. 


Would a book by any other name captivate and motivate forgiveness?

Don't know that I will ever look at roses the same way after reading this book. At one point, a character says, "I guess the most we can hope for at the end of our lives is an armful of white roses," or words to that effect. Imagine the fragrance.

Seeking forgiveness turns into something beautiful and remarkable when forgiveness is bestowed because forgiveness is never deserved.

Which reminds me of something else that Jesus said,
Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little. ––Luke 7:47

Thursday, July 10, 2014


How I spent part of my vacation


Sitting on the deck of our cabin, I finished the 607 pages of "Somerset," a prequel to the NYT best-selling novel "Roses," both by author Leila Meacham. Still in my robe, I am savoring a most satisfying read. 

The main character Jessica writes, then publishes the history of the 3 families who settled in East Texas, in the fictional town of Howbutker, just as the state was born in 1836, and then follows the families' sagas up to the year 1900. 

"She finished her book and then she died," I said to my husband James as he sat at the table outside eating a bowl of granola with peaches. 

"Good reason not to finish your book," he said. 

"Well, by age 83 I hope to be gone anyway."

Romantic but not a romance


Jessica married Silas, whose best friend Jeremy also loved Jessica. 

It sounds corny, I know. But laid down on pages the way author Leila Meacham tells the story, the characters seem real and the story more than plausible. If you want more of the story line, here's a link to the Dallas News review of Somerset.

If anything does not hold true to life in this novel, it is men making declarations of love, reading between the lines and figuring out how to connect the dots that women scatter like seeds. Women have intuition to recognize motives in a way men rarely do. 

But if life does not neatly answer our questions, a good novel can. And now I have "Roses" to look forward to, invested in characters I care about even before we are introduced.

I'm glad my friend Sharon recommended these books, and glad my daughter Erin recommended I read "Somerset" first, and I am glad I got first editions of both. Like "Gone with the Wind," these books may one day be valuable, though more so to collectors if these copies hadn't been read, or if these books were signed by the author. 

But I won't be around anyway to know if any of the books I have purchased and prized will be valued and valuable to anyone but me. 

The Truth shall set you free


Meacham's device in telling this story involves a curse, how each generation of Toliver's grapples with whether or not tragedies they experienced were related to a curse. This is something I could relate to because of my mother's upbringing in the all-too-real East Texas town of Marshall, mentioned in Meacham's book. 

My mother grew up in that place where and during a time when superstition mingled with religion and ignorance accounted for the ways people saw and interpreted their lives. Like the dirt comic strip character Pig Pen never shakes, superstition followed my mother throughout her 67-years, leading her to make crazy decisions, as if she expected things to turn out badly, as if she believed herself under a generational curse. 

Particularly in marriage, Mom made one bad decision after another. Only I wouldn't be here if she were not my mom, and if the man I never knew was not my biological father. In my life, as in Meacham's enchanted tale, secrets kept fires smoldering and the truth, when it came out, set people free. 

I suppose that as a writer, this is what I want: to set people free from the power of secrets. But then sometimes knowing the truth––because truth is partial, at best––can be used to justify the very behavior the truth-teller hopes others will avoid.

I think the author's point was that true, consequences, not curses, do follow our bad decisions, but in the wake, there are also compensations––blessings that would not have been known and enjoyed had a person taken any other course of action. 

It's just in life, lived every day as it is, connections are not as obvious between decisions and outcomes as they are in a book. A book compresses the passing of time. A book leaves out boring parts, which truth be told, most of our daily lives are boring. Or rather, ordinary.

Thank God for that!