Luminous evocations of the last days of Rosalie, a Mississippi plantation brought down by the collapse of ``King Cotton'' in the early 1900s as observed by a young girl on the cusp of womanhood. McLaughlin (The Balancing Pole, 1991, etc.) begins the story in the summer of 1909 on the eve of Uncle Will's marriage to widowed Aunt Emily, and though many incidents accumulate in the course of the novel, the mood is always more important than the action. Ten-year-old Carlin McNair, precociously intelligent, is looking forward to the wedding. Will is her favorite uncle, and Aunt Emily is her mother's dearest sister and the mother of Carlin's playmates. But all may not be well: When her father returns home on the day of the wedding without the bridegroom-to- be, Carlin hears her mother ask whether Will's ``old trouble'' has kept him from coming. The marriage does take place, and Uncle Will and Aunt Emily set off for Paris, the city where Will, an architect, had spent his happiest years. Will, Carlin soon learns, suffers from depression, probably manic, for he veers from dark despair to wild enthusiasm. As his interests become more extreme- -one moment he's obsessed with agricultural theories, the next he's running for Congress—Carlin's family begins a decline that will eventually see them forced to abandon Rosalie and move to town. Carlin is aware of her parents' increased economies. She hears the talk of poor harvests and low prices and has seen the boll-weevil's devastation; but she doesn't appreciate the implications for her family until it's clear that what had seemed timeless—the family's servants, customs, and possessions—will be no more. Meanwhile, the pleasures of childhood—gifts, horseback rides, a stimulating teacher, loving parents—soften some of the blows, including a near-fatal illness and Uncle Will's disintegration. A clear-eyed, loving but never sentimental look at the Old South as it tries to adjust to a new order.
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