Monday, June 28, 2010

Plantation by Dorothea Benton Frank

Plantation by Dorothea Benton Frank has been on the "gotta get to this book" list for some time. Now that a follow-up book, Lowcountry Summer, has just come out, I figured it was time to get to Plantation which I had downloaded to my Kindle last year.

From Publishers Weekly (via amazon)
...this colorful contemporary romance effortlessly evokes the lush beauty of the South Carolina Lowcountry while exploring the complexities of family relationships. 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 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. While most of the story is told from Caroline's point of view, journal entries written by Miss Lavinia open several of the chapters, providing the narrative with additional texture and warmth. Although the novel is short on plot, readers will enjoy immersing themselves in the lives of these deftly drawn, heartfelt characters.

On bookshelves
Turning out lights, I looked around at what Richard and I had built in the last thirteen years. We had six rooms of travel memorabilia from our wanderings. Our bookshelves were crammed with learned opinions on every area of psychology and psychiatrics in and out of print. Those were Richard's. They were his library and his weapons. My books were on textiles from around the world, Japanese gardens, obscure religions such as the cargo cultures of West Africa. Sometimes it seemed that he focused on the mind of man whereas I studied the spirit and what man held sacred. Our bookshelves were as good a starting place as any to see the differences between us.

On a doctor's office
His walls were covered with diplomas and citations and photographs of what appeared to be open-air-market people in Istanbul and Greece. He apparently liked to travel and to read. In addition to bookshelves of reference materials on various skin diseases, he had a small collection of leather-bound old books--classics--probably first editions. He treasured books. He couldn't be all bad.

On appreciation and simplicity
But when the red ball of the sun slipped under the Edisto River that evening, I was pretty sure that life didn't get much better than being in the place you loved most, surrounded by the people closest to your heart.

Plantation was a story of a family finding its true self again after years of misinterpretations and misunderstandings. I enjoyed seeing Caroline Wimbley Levine find her heart and home, although it seemed at times that she certainly was taking a lot of needless side trips along the way.  I have put Lowcountry Summer on my library reserve list; however, I see from many reviews that this follow-up to Plantation is getting some of the same bad reviews as did Return to Sullivan's Island. Sometimes, unless it is clear that the author set out to write a series, characters may be best served by our remembering them as we last knew them in print or as we, the readers, chose to imagine what happened next.

Rating: 3.5/5 (Fiction Scale)

Dedication: For Peter

First Sentence (from Prologue): This story I have to tell you has to be true because even I couldn't make up this whopper.

Personal note: Lavinia Boswell Wimbley took a fancy to the poetry of Rod McKuen.

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