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Throwback Thursday–I Mean Friday–The Kashmir Shall

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The story of a younger wife of an older missionary was bound to attract my attention. Then add that it is set in WWII-era British India and you can see why I snapped this up and read it eagerly. The wife, Nerys Watkins, is parked at a lakeside resort while her husband goes evangelizing. During this time she comes to know herself and experience life in ways she never imagined. This is not a Christian book, but the missionary is portrayed as sincere. Unfortunately, I found the modern-day part of the story too contrived so I only skimmed it. Nerys’ story is well worth the read though. The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas.

For other stories of older man–younger women romances, see the Right sidebar and click on Cross-Generation Romance.

 

The Chocolate Lady’s #ThrowbackThursday takes place on the Thursday before the first Saturday of every month and highlights a previously published book review.

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Review: Strange Weather in Tokyo [aka The Briefcase] by Hiromi Kawakami

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My Interest

As you’ve learned if you have read my blog for a while, I love a good older man–younger woman romance. No Sugardaddies! No gold-diggers! No pervs! Just a sincere older man, younger woman pairing.

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Map Source

The Story

Tsukiko is an office worker in early midlife. One evening at a bar she encounters a teacher from her high school. They develop a close, loving relationship. “Sensei” as she continues to call him is much older, but they find they order the same foods, like drinking together, and enjoy each other’s take on the world.

“Would you consider a relationship with me, based on a premise of love?” he asks a few years later.

My Thoughts

Hopefully, no spoilers. I hate them. Sorry if I give something away without realizing it First, let me say that I loved the sound of the food–I want to try ALL the food in this book!

I’ve only read a handful of Japanese books, so I probably missed miles of symbolism in this one. For example, Sensei always carries a briefcase and in the end, we find something out about it, but I’m still unsure what it means. Some of his pronouncements, some of her acts–surely there was supposed to be more meaning than I understood in them?

This is one of the few older man/younger woman relationships that I accepted and liked but found “off.” Not pervy, not desperate, not cringe-y, just “off” somehow. I found myself hoping Tsukiko would take off for America or move-in with her high school classmate or just adopt a pet. I did not “feel” the relationship between her and Sensei in the way I believe the author intended. I found Tsukiko’s only true-to-life emotion was in the cringy last part where she wonders if a physical relationship even matters.

My Verdict

3 Stars

Read all of the reviews of Japanese Literature Challenge 13 here

#JapaneseLitChallenge13

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Review: What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age by Renee Rosen

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My Interest

I was born in “Chicagoland” and shopping to my family meant going to Marshall Field. All of my dollhouse purchases and our Matchbox car purchases came from the toy department. My father, grandfather and uncle’s suits, white shirts, and ties all came from the men’s department. My mother, aunt, and grandmother once all innocently purchased the same dress in the ladies’ department! (And three more different women you could not find in one family).  Best of all, Marshall Field’s was where Santa came. Happily, in 2003, my cousin and I took her two younger daughters (who were being VERY, VERY good sports at their age) and my two children to see the decorations and to talk to Santa just before the State Street store and the rest of the chain became….ugh…Macy’s.

So, when I learned from The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog of this book, I knew I had to read it. I love older man–younger woman true romances and love historical fiction, so ….

 

Delia Spencer Caton source and Marshall Field source

The Story

On the night of the Great Chicago Fire [remember–Mrs. O’Leary’s cow??] Delia Spencer [another gaggle of famous Spencer girls!] meets the love of her life, 40-year-old, married, Marshall Field, later to become synonymous with the great department store bearing his name (among other things).  As changes happen in Chicago, and “Marsh” becomes even more powerful, Delia is there for him. Married herself to another Chicago society man, Del, Arthur (her husband), and Marsh lead a life together always complicated by the overbearing Nannie, aka Mrs. Marshall Field.

My Thoughts

I don’t usually post unmarried couples as great cross-generational romances, but this one was just shy of Mr. Rochester’s crazy wife in the attic, so I let Marsh and Dell have their day. I loved them but didn’t always like them. God doesn’t send a lady someone else’s husband, after all. Not while that other lady is still alive.

The book itself was well-paced, the writing very good. Marsh and Del were fairly well fleshed-out. The author did get too heavy on the newspaper or couturier catalog description of rooms or clothing though. In fact, that got to be a drag in places.

I didn’t find either Marsh or Delia to be that likable, except when they were alone together. Delia did lovingly care for her own husband at one point which redeemed her some.  While I found Nannie to be beyond unlikeable, she also had reason to be!

Marshall was Marshall–a man completely obsessed with his work, his legacy, his own world. Power is a quite an attraction for many women. Marsh, unless the author skipped this part, did not openly play the field. I suppose that redeemed him some, too.

You can read more about the real Delia Spencer Caton here in

The Second Mrs. Field: The Fabulous Delia Caton

My Verdict

Aside from the flaws mentioned above, and a few silly mistakes like calling Marhsall’s children “teenagers” before the word was coined, and pontificating conversation such as “he’s changing the face of State Street,” I still found this to be a good read although I acutally listened to the audiobook.

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An Unexpected Employee

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Harry Selfridge source

This book was published in 2014, right when the drama Mr. Selfridge was all over PBS. Harry Selfridge got his start with who? Marshall Field, of course!

One interesting, unexpected relationship

Marshall’s daughter, Ethel, was mother to British socialite Ronnie Tree (from her first marriage) and was the wife of World War I’s Admiral David Beatty by whom she had two more sons. Marsh regarded Beatty as “a sailor.” He was 30 years her senior.

 

Ethel Field source, Lady Beatty, her husband Admiral Lord Beatty, source, and their eldest son, David, later Lord Beatty source.

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Delia, later in life. Source

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Review: Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart

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My Interest

This novel was named one of the Best Books of 2018 by NPR. I had heard of one of the author’s earlier works, Absurdistan, but had not read it. Having spent a large chunk of my working life in law firms doing finance, securities, and banking law, I liked the SEC story from the start.

The Story

Hedge-hogger Barry Cohen has over $2 billion in assets under management in his hedge fund, This Side of Capital.  His much younger, but only, wife, Seema (a name, I imagine chosen to evoke the fluid a male dispenses in the procreative act as that substance carried the defective gene related to Barry’s age) now have a little son just-diagnosed as “On The Spectrum.” Meanwhile, the SEC is hot on Barry’s heels over some questionable decisions he has made in running his fund. So, Barry takes off on a Greyhound, throwing away his phone and credit cards by schlepping along a wheelie-case of exotic high-end watches–his passion. His road trip, seemingly modeled on something by Hemmingway that I haven’t yet read, becomes cathartic and helps him to work out who he is and what his purpose is. Predictably, along the way, he meets many “colorful” “real people” who live “authentic” lives. I.e. the poor.

Running behind all of this is Seema’s own disillusionment, her overwhelming anxiety about their son and the necessity of getting him every possible therapeutic assistance available. And, of course, the election. You remember the election, I’m sure?  The one with that man and that woman–neither of whom gave me all those feels? Yeah. That one.

My Thoughts

Road trip novels are always great fun, especially in the summer. Overall I enjoyed the book. I am well-versed in the smaller city versions of Barry. I was pleased to find him asking why people who weren’t uber-rich staying in Manhattan when they could “live like minor dictators in the rest of the country”–something I’ve long wondered about. It was refreshing, too, to see Barry connect with his friend’s son, to share his own childhood obsessions (a nice coincidence, admittedly) with the awkward boy.

I always like finding genuine cross-generational couples and Seema and Barry, in spite of their age difference, had, well had had, a real marriage–a first marriage for both. Finally, I was pleasantly surprised by the non-cliche ending (to be honest, I knew this author would not and could not produce a cliched rom-com type ending.) That was a nice, unexpected, moment.

What I couldn’t stand was the author’s obsession with men giving women oral sex. A slurp-by-gulp description of each act was about the grossest thing I’ve read since Outlander. Nor did I need to know that she bent over so they could have sex. Really?? These ADD to the story?? How? Of course, Barry is shallow, but we don’t really need to know his oral fixation to understand him–especially not in such a graphic way.

One silly thing: Who the heck makes cucumber sandwiches for kids  in El Paso?? That was just “off.” Funny, but off.

A Note on the Audio Version

Probably due to the election story, my mind kept hearing President Josiah Bartlet of The West Wing for the reader sounded so much like Martin Sheen!

My Verdict

3.75 Stars

Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart

 

For Another Greyhound Road Trip Novel see:

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Greyhound: A Novel by Steffan Piper. My review is here.

 

 

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Review: The Only Story by Julian Barnes

My Interest

I discovered this book on Powell’s Books website.

The Story

19 years old, home from college and bored, Paul agrees in desperation to his mother’s suggestion of a summer membership to the local Tennis Club. There he meets the predictable “Carolines and Hugos” and Mrs. MacLeod (Susan). They play a mixed-doubles match together and start an affair that will affect the course of Paul’s life.

“Sometimes I forget about other people. About them existing. People I’ve never met, I mean.” Susan says early on. And she lives up to this well and truly.

Paul and Susan, at first, are giddy over their odd attraction to each other. Susan, long the wife of a sexless marriage and Paul, the young man eager for sex in a Britain not yet into the “real” 1960s and it’s sexual revolution, find they differ little from each other in terms of bedroom experience. They muddle on.

That’s one of the things about life. We’re all just looking for a place of safety. And if you don’t find one, then you have to learn how to pass the time.”

Only the time stops passing. It starts dragging. It stops. Totally stops as Susan either descends into alcoholism or Paul discovers her addition.

It was at this point the book seemed to just fall apart for me. I understand the premise–the tone and tenor of the book are meant to mimic and mirror the slow descent into the death of the relationship. But it did not work well to me. It was like reading a hastily scribbled draft. I felt like whatever is before a Beta reader. I lost all interest in the characters at this point and, though I finished it, I never regained my initial interest in them. Maybe that was par to of the author’s plan? I have no idea.

I often write about my fondness for sincere older man, younger woman relationships (not the Sugar Daddy/Gold digger variety) and so, reading the premise of this novel, I thought I’d enjoy it. I didn’t. He looked foolish and she buffoonish by the end. He could be forgiven due to his youth at the onset of the relationship. She was just a bored housewife and deserves the negative connotations of that term.

My Verdict

The title comes from the premise that: “Most of us only have one story to tell….only one finally worth telling.” Once the newness wore off, I’m not sure that was true of Paul’s story.

2.5 stars

The Only Story by Julian Barnes

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Review: Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses)

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My Interest

I saw this book and instantly thought, “That’s the home for me in a few years.” It sounded like a great place–and I wasn’t wrong.

“Keeping secrets after all was more about keeping them from one’s self than the world that most likely guessed long ago or didn’t care.”

Bar Harbor Retirement Home…

The Story

Three very elderly distinguished writers and an editor they’ve all know who now has early-onset Alzheimer’s are all waiting out their days at the majestic Bar Harbor Retirement Home, once the mansion-home of another great writer, and now home to elderly and a few intriguing staffers. A younger woman, an orderly with the beautiful name of Cecibel, becomes the unintentional “muse” of one of the writers–Alfronse. Together the writers and the editor produce a “book within the book” that is equally compelling.

Three Nice Surprises

I expected this to be largely a writer’s version of the Maggie Smith movie, The Quartet, but it wasn’t. That was the first nice surprise (even though I loved that movie). The characters, especially Alfonse and Cecibel, were very well developed. I loved that a real romance developed and was shown between those two, even though consummation was not the goal. The love and respect that led to those feelings were so real. That was the second nice surprise.

I wasn’t so sure, at first, about the story-within-the-story, but it worked well. I became as invested in it as I was in the “real” story. This is a plot device that, in my experience, rarely works well so this was a  third very nice surprise.

Tiny Picky Picky Faults

I did find the over-use of the terms, “my/his/a heart stitched”  to be annoying . And, no spoiler (this is a blip in the story),  I didn’t buy that Cecilia, almost surely a Catholic, had received that prescription from a doctor at the date in the story–very unlikely since it was not yet prescribed for that use.  I’m pretty sure a Navy man would have had the obvious solution in his wallet. That’s my historical pickiness is all it doesn’t impact the story, I bring it up because fact-checking got a good discussion in the story.

My Verdict

Definitely want to read more by this author!

The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses): A Novel by Terri-Lynne DeFino

If You Liked This Book

If you like the idea of an older man having a younger woman as his last muse, then check out this nonfiction book about Ernest Hemingway and his last muse. My review.

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Autumn in Venice: Ernest Hemingway and His Last Muse by Andrea di Robilant.

If you dream of maintaining a creative life into advanced old age, watch Maggie Smith in The Quartet.

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Finally, if you like real older man–younger woman romance, see this blog’s sidebar tag cloud for Cross Generational Romance” and see all of my posts on real life and fictional couples of this type.

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Cross-Generational Romance in Jane Austen? The “new” Darcy!

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 Illustration credit: (Nick Hardcastle/ UKTV) in Smithsonian Magazine

If you’ve read this blog very often you’ll have learned that I’m a fan of truly romantic, loving older man–younger woman couples (not Sugar Daddy relationships). So when I read the story in Smithsonian about Mr. Darcy being “redesigned” I thought, what if he was older? What if this was him but with his real hair–not a powdered wig?

Until about the time of World War II (an era way beyond the time of Pride and Prejudice) young women were often courted by and then married to older men. I’ve covered some of them in this blog, From Anthony and Clarissa Eden to Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall to Jefferson and Varina Davis to Lord Harewood (Lascelles) and Princess Mary, all had successful marriages. So why not, Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy?

It makes an amount of sense. An older Darcy would be settled, will have sowed his wild oats and will be able to support a wife. Pemberly is, therefore, not in danger of having to be sold. An heir, however, might be needed. What is more, he is mature and confident and can handle a strong-willed lady in his life without being threatened by her. See? It makes sense.

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Photo credit: BBC Colin Firth as Darcy in BBC’s Pride and Prejudice

 

So Elizabeth Bennett would find an odler Darcy…attractive? She was the sensible one, remember? Sure she’d nearly die of lust if Colin Firth emerged from the pond, but as a  husband the older Darcy would be the better catch in every way to a sensible girl. And, no, I don’t think she’d run off and play Lady Chatterly with the gamekeeper, either! Unless he was Colin Firth…or Laurence Olivier. Well, Olivier might get away with being a butler, but I can’t see him as the sexy gamekeeper.

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Laurence Oliver as Darcy

To me, the idea of Darcy as an older man makes the story much more interesting!

 

 

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Review: Across the River and Into the Trees by Ernest Hemingway. Cross-Generational Romance in Fiction

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I’m late to liking Hemingway. I finally discovered I could stand him reading  A Moveable Feast in college, then The Green Hills of Africa pre-Peace Corps and finally A Farewell to Arms with my son about a decade ago. Today I’m a fan, thanks to the book I’m reviewing today.

The Story

Back in post World War II Italy, real-life Hemingway bet a beautiful young Italian aristocrat–Adriana.  A short while ago, I reviewed the non-fiction book on this relationship, Autumn In Venice: Ernest Hemingway and His Last Muse. This then is Hemingway’s not-very-fictionalized version of the story.

Colonel, formerly Brigadier General, Richard Cantwell is a mid-life, 50, no longer married, no children.  He has an injured hand and arm, but the arm still works.  He falls for the beautiful Renata–just 18 years old. (In aristocratic circles this has never been a big deal. He was not seen as “grooming” her or as a pervert or anything.) She enjoys his attention and begins to fall in love. He calls her “daughter,” which is a tad cringe-worthy, but he only did so in private or with trusted friends. Yes, I know, I know, but times were different.

The real “Colonel” and the real “Renata”

My Thoughts

Her head was on his chest now, and the Colonel said, ‘Why did you not want me to take off the tunic?’

‘I like to feel the buttons. Is it wrong?’

I loved their romance. I loved that Hemingway, the classic man’s man, could be tender in his thoughts. I have to believe their conversations in the story were largely those of the real couple–certainly the Colonel’s emotions HAD to be Hemingway’s own. The sweet, silly things they said–the way she has him tell her about the war as they lie down together. The joy in holding each other. The gondola rides. It was all like being on the best date ever. I wanted to be Renata, I wanted to feel those military tunic buttons, wanted to be engulfed in the scent of this real man–a man who would never wax anything or anywhere but a car!

‘Kiss me first.’

She kissed him kind, and hard, and desperately, and the Colonel could not think about any fights or any picturesque or strange incidents. He only thought of her and how she felt and how close life comes to death when there is ecstasy. And what the hell is ecstasy and what’s ecstasy’s rank and serial number? And how does her black sweater feel? And who made all her smoothness and delight

But….

‘Is she really dead?’

‘Deader than Phoebus the Phoenician. But she doesn’t know it yet.’

‘What would you do if we were together in the Piazza and you saw her?’

‘I’d look straight through her to show her how dead she was.’

‘Thank you very much,’ the girl said. ‘You know that another woman, or a woman in memory, is a terrible thing for a young girl to deal with when she is still without experience.’

‘There isn’t any other woman,’ the Colonel told her, and his eyes were bad and remembering. ‘Nor is there any woman of memory.’

‘Thank you, very much,’ the girl said. ‘When I look at you I believe it truly. But please never look at me nor think of me like that.’

‘Should we hunt her down and hang her to a high tree?’ the Colonel said with anticipation.

‘No. Let us forget her.’

‘She is forgotten,’ the Colonel said. And, strangely enough, she was. It was strange because she had been present in the room for a moment, and she had very nearly caused a panic; which is one of the strangest things there is, the Colonel thought. He knew about panics. (Hemingway, Across the River and Into the Trees)

I do have one small complaints–you knew I would, right? He used his then wife as the Colonel’s ex-wife, right down to her coming to bed with her hair pinned into pin-curls. That was a cheap, mean shot. Otherwise, I loved every word.

Across the River and Into the Woods is available on Project Gutenberg/Canada for free here. Or, for the book on Amazon click the linked title. Remember, I do not make any money off this blog–not even when you click on a link I provide to Amazon for your convenience.

 

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Read the nonfiction account of the romance that sparked the novel–Autumn in Venice: Ernest Hemingway and His Last Muse. My review is here.

 

My Mind Wandered….

…as is often the case, to my favorite fictional older wounded man (likely a colonel, too) and his younger woman: Sir Anthony Strallan and Lady Edith Crawley of Downton Abbey.  I know, I know, but that was Julian Fellowes doing–Sir Anthony would NEVER have been so unchivilrous! And, yes, I also know, that in the end Edith got to outrank Mary by being a Marchioness–and that is all that really matters….

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A Cross-Generational Romantic Gem–Review: A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons

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“Oh, it’s no crime to want and need somebody to love and to be loved by and to go and do what you need to do to have that, but its certainly a pity when you want it so badly you’ll let it be anybody.”

Kaye Gibbons “might could of” written the definitive story of Cross-Generational Love. Jack and Ruby are a couple for the ages! I missed this book when it was released thanks to being in the Peace Corps in Malawi and the Gulf War getting in the way of everything. I finally caught up with it and I’m so glad I did! Just as well I didn’t see that it was an Oprah Book Club selection or I might have skipped it. After all, no one dies in the first sentence, there’s no incest or anything like that. I AM grateful to Oprah for getting our country to read, I just don’t always find her picks to be anything be depressing. This one is a very good exception to that perception.

The Story

After a youthful mistake of epic proportions, Ruby finds Jack, an older man from a different socio-economic class. Ruby wants someone to take care of her. Jack wants to take care of Ruby. And they lived happily ever after–for the most part.

What I Loved

This story is so real–so believable. To me, that’s the test of good fiction. I loved the way Gibbons tells the story exactly as real-life people from the time and place would have told it in a conversation. “Might could” is a regional expression, but there’s much more to it than a simple phrase. The dialogue is full of Ruby and Jack and the other’s emotions and humanity.

Ruby, the title’s virtuous woman, understands life like few women ever have–but it’s real that she does so. She understands that Jack needs her to take care of him, too. And, she understands that she must speak carefully–she adheres to James 1:19, “...let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”

“You can’t just throw words out. They have to land somewhere.”

This, and the quote at the top of the post, are the most beautiful things I read in this book. The beautiful feelings of this book are love, acceptenceand protection. Sweet.

A Virtuous Woman: A Novel by Kaye Gibbons

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If you enjoyed this book you likely will enjoy Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night, too. You can read my review here  (scroll down to the correct review).

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Review: Varina by Charles Frazier, Cross-Generational Confederate Romance in Fact and Fiction

 

A Little Backstory

I was a Civil War freak first, then became attracted to Older Man–Younger Woman romances. If you are reading this between the lines, it is screaming Scarlett and Rhett! Yes, I was a Gone With the Wind Addict in Middle School. Much later I learned that none other than that former U.S. Senator and Secretary of War, turned traitor aka, Jefferson Davis, was himself the husband to a much younger bride. So, when I read of this novel’s publication I knew I’d devour it. And I did.

The Novel’s Story

The book is told in that conventional way of a “present day” [in this case, very early 20th Century] story and a remembered time. In this case, Varina Howell Davis is meeting with a man whom she had mothered for a few years during the Civil War when he was an abused child and she his rescuer.

Varina remembers her life as the daughter of a man who couldn’t hold on to money, of her arrival into the odd household of Jeff Davis’ older brother and then her life as Mrs. Jefferson Davis in all of it’s interesting forms.

My Thoughts

I was entranced by Frazier’s writing–this was my introduction to his work so I absolutely wrapped myself in his prose. It is so beautifully written. I was listening to the audio so the pages and pages of quotes I wanted to take down didn’t get written down, which is sad.

Here is the one I managed to write down in parking lot:

“Since then, South and North have been busy constructing new memories, new histories, fictions fighting to become facts…”

And one I committed to memory:

“…a genius at inflicting love….”

Beautiful, evocative, memorable writing like this tells the entire story.

 

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As I have read–devoured, really, Mary Chestnut’s Diary, I was very familiar with the war-time life of Varina Davis. Mary Chestnut and Varina were dear friends. I thought Frazier got these parts so right. I have read one biography (see below) of Varina as well. Frazier embodied her the way I had constructed her in my mind. Intellectual, but caring. Independent, but but not stand-offish. Her voice in this book was fully authentic to my ears.

I liked that Frazier gave Mary, the First Lady of the Confederacy, the same sorts of struggles all women faced–feeding the children, keeping her marriage going,  on stupidity of the war. She has to cope with situations that are far too trying for anyone. She also must deal with the almost total absence of her husband due to the war. With a large family of young children, this was very difficult. Opiates, so destructive today, are not new–women were often prescribed them for hysteria or melancholia. Varina having them in wine was a truthful reaction to the stress of a life she could not control. This was breathtakingly honest.

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I also liked (no spoilers) the end of Jefferson Davis’ life–when the ugly head of jealousy reared itself in Varina’s very independent heart. That was wonderul. As she said, elsewhere in the book, no one knows the real truth of a marriage but the two people in it. This beautifully illustrated that sentiment.

I was also struck again that a nation founded by “traitors” did not then execute the next generation of “traitors.” It occurred to me again, that this is the heart of America. Davis was imprisoned, but as is pointed out in the book, why hang him and have him become a rival martyr to Lincoln?

Trivia: Did you know that the first (childless) Mrs. Jefferson Davis was the daughter of President Zachary Taylor? True!

 

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Read more about the Davis children in this blog post.

 

What Troubled Me

I loved the book, but there were two things that troubled me just a little. Two tiny things.  I understand there have always been cynics, always been people who loathed organized religion or who went to church just to keep up appearances, but I found some of the comments made by characters in the book to be very 21st century in their stridency. I also felt that characters sometimes lapsed into well written prose rather than authentic speach. A few monologues or dialogues that were just a bit too well rehearsed for real life.

My Verdict

4 Stars

Her is an excellent biography of Varina (as well as of Mary Todd Lincoln)

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Crowns of Thorns and Glory…by Gerry Van Der Heuvel. It is out-of-print, but easy to find used. (The link is to used copies on Amazon.)

An article on Jimmy Limber

John Coski on Jefferson Davis and Jim Limber

Here is are two  interesting “What Ifs…”

 

 

If The South Had Won The Civil War by MacKinlay Kantor is the classic of this genre.

CSA: Confederate States of America A Novel by Howard Means, only got 2 stars from me, but it was still an interesting idea. It is set in a modern day Confederacy–everything is truly “separate but equal” for the both white and black.