Mary Toliver DuMont knows she is dying. When she looks back on her life and reflects on all the mistakes she’s made, she chooses to sell her family’s huge farm rather than leave it to her great-niece as Rachel is expecting. In this multi-generational saga, the characters take us back through their lives to the beginning of many of their problems so that the conclusion becomes understandable. This family has experienced it all, and their mistakes may prevent the happiness of the newest generation.
I often love sagas of this variety and Roses was not really an exception. There’s little better than investing yourself in several hundred pages of a fictional family’s complicated and generally tragic life. Here the central tragedy is that Mary Toliver and Percy Warwick don’t marry, even though they are clearly the loves of each other’s lives, due to misunderstandings and mistakes. Those resonate throughout the book and influence decisions made by all the characters throughout.
These families are descended through Lancastrian and Yorkist immigrants to the United States and as a result use a system of roses to signal forgiveness (and unforgiveness) to one another. I have to admit I rolled my eyes a little at this, as it just seems way too sentimental for real life, but it works really well as a device within the story, so I got used to it very quickly and appreciated how the author wove it in, making the title perfectly appropriate for the book. I also really liked the characters for the most part, especially Percy; Mary and Rachel were slightly too abrasive for me to love them, but I still liked them.
Despite the fact that I was swept up in the story and really enjoyed it, I have to say I had an issue with the central reason for frustration. Everyone blames everything on Somerset, and it seemed to me what really happened was that the characters made bad decisions. Getting rid of the land would not have solved their problems, talking would. I could definitely understand the issue an early twentieth century southern magnate would have had with his wife out in the fields all day, but I do think there’s such a thing as compromise. Mary and Percy are just too stubborn to have things their own way.
Roses is a saga in a great tradition, but it’s not a perfect one. Still, if you enjoy reading about strong characters and don’t mind a little bit of tragedy and suspending belief, this would be a wonderful choice. I’d also suggest it to people who enjoyed Dallas on TV – the Texas feel is so similar here.
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