Sitting on the deck of our cabin, I finished reading the 607 pages of Somerset, a prequel to the NYT best-selling novel Roses, both by author Leila Meacham. Still in my robe, I savored a most satisfying read.
The main character Jessica writes, then publishes the history of the 3 families who settled in East Texas, in the fictional town of Howbutker, just as the state of Texas was born in 1836. Jessica chronicles the families’ sagas up to the year 1900.
“She finished her book and then she died,” I said to my husband James as he sat at the table outside eating a bowl of granola with peaches.
“Good reason not to finish your book,” he said, referring to the book for years I have worked to write.
“Well, by age 83 I hope to be gone anyway.” That’s how old the character Jessica is when she dies.
Romantic but not a romance
Jessica married Silas, whose best friend Jeremy also loved Jessica.
It sounds corny, I know. But laid down on pages the way author Leila Meacham tells the story, believable characters make the story more than plausible.
If anything does not hold true to life in this novel, the men make declarations of love, and like mind readers know how to to connect the dots that women scatter like seeds. As if.
But if life does not neatly answer our questions, a good novel can.
The Truth shall set you free
Meacham’s literary device in telling this story involves a curse. Each generation of Tolivers grapple with whether or not tragedies they experienced were related to a curse.
Easy for me to identify with both the setting and the belief in curses. My mother’s upbringing in the all-too-real East Texas town of Marshall is mentioned in Meacham’s book.
My mother grew up in Marshall during a time when superstition mingled with religion, like a recipe, and ignorance accounted for the ways people interpreted their lives.
Superstition haunted my mother’s decisions throughout her 67-years.
In marriage, Mom made one bad decision after another. Strike three, you’re out.
Only it’s fair to admit I wouldn’t be alive if she were not my mom. If the man I never knew had not been my biological father, I wouldn’t be me.
In my life, as in Meacham’s enchanted tale, secrets kept fires smoldering but when the truth comes out, the truth sets people free.
Consequences––not curses––follow bad decisions.
However, in literature as in life, people are compensated. Outcomes are rarely all bad or all good. And thank God for that!
In life, lived every day, every minute of every day, connections between decisions and outcomes are hard to track. A book compresses the passing of time. A book leaves out boring parts.
Unintended Consequences of Secret-keeping
I need to talk about this.
A followup to Somerset, I read Roses, in chronological rather than the order these 2 books by Leila Meacham were written and published. Finishing the combined 1216 pages between the 2 books in less than 2 weeks, I read the last 100 pages in one night. Now what?
Like Somerset, the book Roses puts forth complications set in motion by people who keep secrets. Roses ends neatly––loose ends tied like a bow rather than an unraveling mess. Novelists can sort out the messy business of life and leave the reader satisfied by the way things work out, despite disappointments along the way.
Secret-keepers, in this case characters who think they can control others and effect desired outcomes to suit themselves, encounter unforeseen complications that end up hurting the people they wanted to protect.
Rather than spoil the plot, I guess you could say I’m keeping secrets.
Roses: An Emblem of Forgiveness
Emblems of the two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet, Lancaster and York, roses represent the ancestors of the Tolivars and Warwicks. Their common history provided the foundation for the lives these families eventually carved out in East Texas.
“The red and white rose, what else? They will be a reminder of my duty to our friendship, to our joint endeavors. And if ever I should offend you, I will send a red rose to ask forgiveness. And if ever I receive one tendered for that purpose, I will return a white rose to say that all is forgiven.”
This generational saga shows that each and every character needed forgiveness for something they had done that hurt someone else.
When I finished reading “Roses,” the Lord’s Prayer came to mind … forgive us AS we forgive others. “As” means, in the same way, and to the same extent.
In effect, we create our own measuring rod for forgiveness by the way we forgive others.
Would a book by any other name capture and motivate forgiveness?
A red rose extended to ask for someone’s forgiveness and a white rose to grant forgiveness, the color pink represented unforgiven.
A character in Roses chose pink to send the message, I will never forgive you. The irony is that the one who chooses not to forgive remains unforgiven.
Bitterness and resentment destroy that person who refuses to forgive.
Seeking forgiveness turns into something beautiful and remarkable because forgiveness is never, ever deserved.
At one point, a character says, “I guess the most we can hope for at the end of our lives is an armful of white roses.”
Don’t know that I will ever look at roses the same way.
Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little. ––Luke 7:47