Critics Say . . .
This enthralling stunner, a good old-fashioned read, may herald the overdue return of those delicious doorstop epics from such writers as Barbara Taylor Bradford and Colleen McCullough. Meacham's multigenerational family saga, set in East Texas circa 1914–1985, charts the transformation of Mary Toliver, a wide-eyed 16-year-old heiress, into a calculating cotton plantation queen as hardheaded as Scarlett O'Hara. Her brother, Miles, goes off to WWI, returns home, but then goes back to France to marry Marietta, a French Communist, leaving Mary to deal with their plantation, Somerset, and Darla, their alcoholic mother (who later hangs herself ). Many years later, Mary, now an elderly, terminally ill widow, resolves to defeat the “Toliver Curse” and regrets “selling her soul for Somerset” and giving up her true love, Percy Warwick, the father of their secret child, to marry their friend Ollie DuMont, who helped her save Somerset when Percy refused. Meacham uses three well-balanced viewpoints: Mary's, Percy's and Rachel's, Mary's great-niece, who must confront Percy when she discovers some disquieting family information after Mary dies. A refreshingly nostalgic bouquet of family angst, undying love and “if onlys.”
It's been almost 30 years since the heyday of giant epics in the grand tradition of Edna Ferber and Barbara Taylor Bradford, but Meacham's debut might bring them back. This story of two founding families in a small East Texas town spans the 20th century. When Mary Toliver inherits her family's cotton plantation, Somerset, in 1916, it tears apart her family; her mother turns to alcohol, and her brother leaves. Mary's obsession with Somerset even causes her to lose the love of her life, timber magnate Percy Warwick. By the time she's 85, Mary is determined that the family curse will not continue and, despite her grandniece's love of Somerset, plans for the plantation to be sold after her death. Mary Toliver and Percy Warwick can't share anything more than friendship, but Mary's actions might allow Rachel to see past Somerset to the man who loves her. Verdict: Readers who like an old-fashioned saga will devour this sprawling novel of passion and revenge. Highly recommended. —Lesa Holstine, Glendale P.L., AZ
First-time novelist Meacham’s sweeping, century-encompassing, multigenerational epic is reminiscent of the film Giant, and as large, romantic, and American a tale as Texas itself. —Hilary Hatton
The Wars of the Roses relocate to America as a struggle between the Toliver and Warwick families, descended respectively from the houses of Lancaster and York. Emigrating to South Carolina in 1670, these proud clans provided a youngest son each to the 1836 Revolution in Texas, where generations of their offspring have been scrapping ever since. It had to happen that one of the Tolivers would start a-smooching with one of the Warwicks, and so Mary Toliver and Percy Warwick find themselves here in bodice-ripping contortions and secret pacts. Do such stories ever end happily? Meacham begins her saga in recent times, when elderly Mary decides to act on long-hidden feelings by tweaking the noses of her assembled heirs, who patiently await their cut of fortune and a big, beautiful estate in the piney woods, part of a genteel town that Mary has pretty well single-handedly put in the pages of Southern Living and Texas Monthly, which "extolled its Greek Revivalist charm, regional cuisine, and clean restrooms." There are worse places on earth, and worse people than the feuding Texans, though as dark secrets go, Mary and Percy's is less dark than most gothic-romance readers are used to. Still, there are plenty of broken hearts (and at least one broken organ). As San Antonio novelist Meacham (Crowning Design, 1984, etc.) writes of one such instance, "He would never lack for her affection, commitment, and respect, but she felt the part of her that had loved and been loved by the only man she could ever care for curl up in some remote, hidden corner of her being like an animal whose time has come to die." Cue the violins and tears, as Meacham's saga winds slowly to a foreseeable but satisfying conclusion. A suitably long and intermittently engaging descendant of such Southern-fried epics as Gone with the Wind and Giant—just the thing for genre fans with time to spare.
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