Leila Meacham’s well-publicized new novel comes out later this week. If you’ve already heard that it’s primarily set on an East Texas cotton plantation, the title may surprise you–Roses.
Explained early on, the flowers symbolize a unique tradition among the community founders. For me, this device adds little to the story, unlike the locale and the multi-generational characters, which are inspired choices. The fictional small town founded by the Tolivers, Dumonts, and the Warwicks, neither in the Old South nor in the West, can supply elements of both regions: social caste and frontier growth potential. Mary Toliver (who channels Scarlett O’Hara, green eyes and all) is thus granted more scope in which to aspire and, consequently, to invoke new manifestations of the “Toliver curse”.
I am finishing (and enjoying) an Advance Reading Copy and predict that some distracting figures of speech and expressions noted there won’t appear in the final version. San Antonio resident Meacham is at her best when narrating the interplay of relatives and old friends unwilling to trust one another, justifiably or not. Roses’ 600+ pages and nearly century-long span have already invited comparison with The Thorn Birds, Giant, and Gone With the Wind.
Does that juxtaposition sound accurate–or flattering? You decide. I’m reserving my opinion but will say that Roses calls to mind two other nicely written sagas that have worn well. Helen Hooven Santmyers’ And Ladies of the Club memorably follows generations of small-town Ohio families from the Civil War well into the 20th century. Jane Roberts Woods’ trilogy (beginning with The Train to Estelline) originates in northeast Texas. The novels chronicle Lucinda Richards’ life for two decades–a span of years that forges her character and documents the changing nature of Texas, as well. As in Roses, we learn that East Texas women named Lucy should not be taken lightly!