Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Plantation: a Lowcountry tale by Dorothea Benton Frank
Reasons for reading: I loved Frank's Sullivan's Island last year; Seconds Challenge
Description (from the publisher): "When Caroline Wimbley Levine learns that her mother, Miss Lavinia, has supposedly gone mad, she leaves the big city bustle of Manhattan and returns to Tall Pines Plantation. Caroline originally left Tall Pines to escape her feisty, eccentric mother and her drunken brother, Trip, but when Miss Lavinia dies, Caroline is forced to come to terms with her family's troubled history as well as her failing relationship with her husband. As Caroline reminisces about her past rebelliousness and her childhood, she realizes that her father's sudden and tragic death many years before served as a catalyst for the family's disintegration. Caroline and Trip also learn that their seemingly selfish and self-assured mother was not so uncaring after all. "
First sentence: "This story I have to tell you has to be true because even I couldn't make up this whopper."
My thoughts: This is my second book by Dorothea Frank and, while I didn't get as wrapped up in it as I did in Sullivan's Island, I still enjoyed it. I think part of the magic of her first book for me was that I read it while I was visiting South Carolina, so I was excited to read about places I'd just seen and I was surrounded by the heat, the rivers, the accent, etc. But Plantation definitely sparked some happy memories of being there, too. Frank's love of the area shines through, particularly when describing the beauty of nature, in particular the Edisto River, which seems to flow through the very veins of the Wimbley family.
This is a very back-and-forth novel, which isn't always my favourite. I don't mind flashbacks, but this one started at the end (through a prologue) and then mixed way-back flashbacks, the present day, and used both Caroline and Miss Lavinia as narrators. It was a bit too jumbly for me at times. It also had supernatural elements that didn't really grab me (messages from the grave, in particular).
I found both Caroline and Miss Lavinia's hormones a bit shocking - I'm not a prude, but not-yet-divorced Caroline seems to be attracted to every man she meets and barely lets two days go by in between her conquests. She is recovering from a jerk of a husband, but it was still a bit much. Miss Lavinia also seems to snag any man that wanders into Tall Pines. I'm all for embracing your sexuality, but a few standards and a bit of self-control wouldn't hurt.
France Mae, Trip's white trash wife, is both an awful villain and a figure for pity. She's greedy, rude, and stupid, and Trip only married her because she was pregnant. It's really quite sad - everyone in the family, including her husband, hates her. But she has produced four granddaughters for Miss Lavinia, who treats them and their mother like dirt. I actually felt sorriest for the girls - while their mother may be frightful, the family's attitude towards her overflows onto the children, which isn't fair. The new baby is gleefully described as ugly by her grandmother and aunt, which I found dreadful (yes, I've noticed an ugly baby in my time, but I would never describe my own kin that way) and it seems that Miss L. didn't know anything about loving a grandchild til Caroline and her son Eric showed up. Even Trip prefers his nephew to his own children. Perhaps if he wasn't a drunk who was losing all his money, he could've had a positive influence on them and kept them from becoming copies of Frances Mae.
The story of Trip, Caroline, and Lavinia's strained relationship unfolds well and Miss Lavinia leaves the world in grand style, as she lived in it. Lavinia really is a character and she does come to realize her past behaviour towards her children has damaged them. Despite her death, there's a happy ending.
Verdict: I may not have enjoyed this one quite as much as her first book, but I'll still be happy to take any trips to South Carolina that Frank wants to take me on.