Sunday, March 28, 2010
Spanning the 20th century, the story of Roses takes place in a small East Texas town against the backdrop of the powerful timber and cotton industries, industries controlled by the scions of the town's founding families. Cotton tycoon Mary Toliver and timber magnate Percy Warwick should have married but unwisely did not, and now must deal with the deceit, secrets, and tragedies of their choice and the loss of what might have been - not just for themselves but for their children, and children's children.
It took me a long time to get into this book, for one thing, I was reading it on kindle, usually devoted to only when I work out. But I've been sick for the past month and haven't been working out at all - so, you get my drift, I haven't been reading on my kindle. Finally, after a couple of tries, I got into it. Once I got past the first third of the story, I was hooked and read it in two days. This is not a short book, it's over 800 pages long, so it's saying something that even though it took me a couple of weeks to read the first 100 pages in drips and drabs in waiting rooms at orthodontists and doctor's offices, not to mention the check out lines at the supermarket - I read the next 700 pages in two days! It was hard to put down.
Roses is the story of Mary Toliver and Percy Warwick, their love for one another and the mistakes they made that set in motion a series of events that span the next six decades. Set in Texas for most of the 20th century, the book is divided up into parts - Mary's Story, Percy's Story and Rachel's story, Rachel is Mary Toliver's grand niece and it looks like she is destined to repeat the same grand mistake her Aunt Mary made, no matter how much Mary tries to circumvent it. My favorite part was Percy's, I adored him and found much sympathy with him. Mary and Percy's stories are the same, from different point of views, and Rachel's picks up in the 1980's after Mary's death. I found Rachel difficult to like, probably because we just didn't "know" her as well as Mary and Percy. I found her stubborn and irrational, an even bigger fool than her Aunt Mary!
The gist of the story poses the question: is land more important than love? Is land worth giving up the love of your life for?
For Mary Toliver this is the burden she must carry with her most of her life. The daughter of a cotton plantation owner, Vernon Toliver, she inherits the whole kit and kaboodle when he dies. She is named the sole heir to this cotton plantation, Somerset. Her mother and brother can never forgive her father for making her the sole owner - nor can they forgive her. Mary must pay the price of owning Somerset. Her mother declines in health, turning to alcoholism. Her bitterness towards Mary is undeserved yet her mother cannot love Mary any longer. Her brother Miles cannot abide by it either. They just don't understand this desire for the land that Mary's father knew Mary had in her to continue the plantation and not just sell it. The only people in her life that stand by her are her dear friends, Ollie DuMont and Percy Warwick, the sons of the other two founding families of the small town in Texas that her ancestors help form in the previous century. Their families are connected through the symbol of the rose going back to their earliest ancestors in Europe with the War of the Roses, and some kind of blah, blah, blah history that goes with it. Basically, between the families, the red rose is given to 'ask for forgiveness,' and the white rose given in return represents 'forgiveness is granted.'
Percy Warwick. I loved Percy. Mary you were such a fool! I would have given up anything for Percy! Percy loved Mary from the day she was born. He watched her grow up, and finally just befor going off to France during WWI, he makes his feelings known to her. By this time, Mary is already engrossed with Somerset and the need for her plantation to be a success. Not easy with the weather and the boll weavel that can strike and kill a cotton crop. When Percy returns from the war in France, they start up a love affair. It's great, it's wonderful, yet there's always her damn land that gets in the way! Mary bides her time with Percy, her land is what is most important to her at the the moment, she keeps putting off their engagement. She takes him for granted at times, convinced he'll always stand by her, no matter how great her preoccupation is with Somerset. Percy is thoughtful, wonderful, understanding and considerate. But he has his limits.
Due to bad timing and mistakes that are compounded over and over Mary and Percy do not marry, though they never stop loving one another. From the 1920's through the Depression and on into WWII they live with that knowlege, yet both can do nothing about it. They each marry another and learn to live with it. They grow old in the same town, watching each other's children grow up. They are friends, sharing in their trials and tribulations, some so sad, I cried a few times for these people, some things were heartbreaking, especially for Percy. As time passes, Mary believes that she must one day right the wrong that was done when her father made her sole heir to Somerset. She looks back and realizes that if she had chosen Percy over Somerset before it was too late, so much would have been different in their lives. So much unhappiness could have been avoided. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.
Fast forward years later to the 1980's. Mary is dying and we know that she has just changed her will. Her grand niece, Rachel is a clone of Mary. And coincidentally enough, Percy's grandson, Matt is a clone of him! And guess what happens? Rachel is devoted to the land, just like her great aunt. She loves Somerset and everyone assumes she is going to be the heir to it when Mary dies. But, all is not as it seems. This is Mary's chance to try and stop what she believes is the curse of the Tolivers. She doesn't want to see Rachel lose out on love as she did. But, fate has other ideas, despite Mary's attempts to save Rachel. Will love once again take 2nd place to the land? Will history repeat itself and will Rachel and Matt have to live with the spectre of the Toliver curse hanging over their heads?
I really liked this book and couldn't put it down, but there just seemed something lacking in it. There wasn't enough depth to it somehow. Oh sure, I understood who the characters were and what they wore and what they said, but their emotions never went too far, except in Percy's case, he was the one exception. Mary was so single minded and distant throughout much of the book, and Rachel was just a blip at the end, a duplicate of Mary. The story had it's elements of irony, fate and foreshadowing about it, but it wasn't a great book, yet it was an engrossing story and I had to see what would happen, as if I were watching a soap opera. The story of lost love that endures over the years was appealing, but the last part of the book with Rachel's story was the weakest. I loved Matt, her love interest, because he reminded me of Percy. I did wonder what he saw in Rachel so much, considering how they'd barely even had a proper kiss together - and he's convinced he wants to spend the rest of his life with her? Instead of an ending that was supposed to leave the reader with that satisfied feeling for them, it fell flat. Though ironically, I loved the meeting between the elderly Percy and Lucy in front of her bridge group - priceless!
All in all, it was a good read, I really enjoyed it, but not the memorable type of epic saga I was expecting, like a Giant or The Thorn Birds. The constant mistakes and repercussions prevented me from loving it. Basically, I wanted a happy ending for Percy and Mary and I didn't get it. I will always love Percy Warwick, no matter what, he was the best thing in the book! I'm always a sucker for tall, good looking men with hearts of gold and a love that lasts forever. Mary was such a fool! Give Roses a try - at least to read about Percy! That alone makes this book worthwhile! *grin*