In 1829, Governor Sam Houston of Tennessee married Eliza Allen; in that same year, Houston left Nashville for the West--and...



In 1829, Governor Sam Houston of Tennessee married Eliza Allen; in that same year, Houston left Nashville for the West--and eventually Texas. Then, in 1837, Sam and Eliza, in Tennessee, were divorced. Both would remarry. This is Crook's highly colored, ambitious attempt to penetrate the lifelong silences of both parties concerning what Crook views as a doomed marriage of an irresistible force and an immovable spirit. From their first meeting, Sam Houston--a hard-drinking man, dressed eccentrically and flamboyantly, who once taught his adopted Cherokee kin The Iliad and memorized chunks of Byron's poetry--and Eliza Allen--a tiny girl-woman, intense and defiant--counterpoint their mutual attraction and repulsion. To Eliza, Sam's ""stratagems"" are mere ""trickery""--whereas Eliza's rebellion against her mean-spirited father and her sick, passively ever-childbearing mother, as well as her refusal to be patronized, ""scare the devil"" out of Sam. Yet there is Sam's honest longing, and Eliza is drawn to ""the stress and chaos they shared. . .and to the power he withheld from her."" While the crazily matched couple spar, Eliza continues to have an affair with a gentle, failed farmer, and Sam waits for a word from Andrew Jackson--a word that will speak of Texas, Sam's dream of conquest. The word will come just before Jackson's inauguration (""I want you to get [Texas] for me, Sam""). And so--after several blistering months, and after a sentimental, essentially political visit to the Cherokees, Sam (""a woman is one thing, an empire is another"") takes a drunken farewell of Eliza and Tennessee. Now between Sam and Eliza only silence will be their ""connection."" First-novelist Crook sets her tale of battling Titans in Olympic chiaroscuro (shadows of Sam's outstretched arms play like ""searching spirits""). Maxi dramas involving real personages, in striking emotive postures, are pointed by mini bits: a log falls in the fireplace, and there's that inevitable dog barking in the distance. In all: a rousing first novel, fired by theatrical flashes and clever, soundly researched-based speculations.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 1990


Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1990