Thursday, July 10, 2014

Somerset

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!


1 comment:

John Fruge said...

Great post! Makes me want to read "Somerset", just to be able to talk about it.