by Elizabeth Nell Dubus ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 12, 1983
Stretching from 1755 to 1916: generation-hopping, superficially vast tedium--about two French/American families who settle in 18th-century Louisiana. The Langlinais clan--hard-working, generous, egalitarian farmers--is driven from Nova Scotia by the British, settling in Spanish-owned Louisiana after four years of weary travel. New neighbors will arrive in the 1780s: the aristocratic de Clouets, headed by Noel and HÃ‰lÃ‰ne (a former lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette), floundering non-pioneer types who need all the help they can get from supportive Claude L. Soon, however, Noel AndrÃ‰ (son of Noel) finds a wife--spirited AimÃ‰e--to handle plantation/stable management (while frustrated HÃ‰lÃ‰ne whines). And eventually the de Clouets' mansion, 'Beau ChÃªne,"" will be built: Noel AndrÃ‰ grudgingly even agrees to have a sugar mill built on their land. . . while Claude's adventurous son Jean-Claude yearns for excitement beyond the farm, encountering ""privateer"" Lafitte. Dotting the economic leaps forward and discouraging plateaus in both families are several colorful deaths: HÃ‰lÃ‰ne, crankier and kookier, takes a dare and takes a fatal ride on a powerful horse; Cecile (nice mother of Jean-Claude) dies saving a grandchild from a bull; a de Clouet dies in a duel; AimÃ‰e breaks a leg and puts herself down with gunshot; in the 1890s a de Clouet is mashed by mill machinery; and in the Roaring Twenties the drugged wife of a degenerate de Clouet hurtles off a balcony. But though there's a good deal about state politics, it's elusive and oblique, whisked past the eye, flash-card style. (Noel does dabble behind the scenes in some shady dealings, then retreats to a patrician distance, while the Langlinais men come to represent new money and power--cracking the bastions of the ""old blood"" establishment.) And it's rather a strain for the out-of-stater to follow, via cryptic dialogue or paragraph capsules, the evolution of post-bellum party evolutions--not to mention all those similarly named family heroes. Despite the periodic dollops of melodrama (the finale involves yet another valiant rescue by a Langlinais neighbor) and the reliable two-family-saga format: too crammed and disjointed for involvement, too flavorless for even intermittent diversion.
Pub Date: April 12, 1983
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1983
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