PHEOBE MAE by Bettye Hammer Givens


Email this review


The driest slice of historical fiction aimlessly following one woman’s insipid life.

When her mother passes away, 16-year-old Pheobe Mae leaves her childhood home to live with her older married sister. Tensions develop between the siblings, and Pheobe marries an apparent stranger to escape her family. Luther Ben and Pheobe then head west to the open plains of Texas. An unfortunate riding accident leaves Pheobe widowed, but while recovering on an African-American couple’s farm, she meets Pleasant McClain, a suave frontiersman who apparently wants to assist Pheobe in securing her husband’s homestead. McClain’s gambling issues force the now-pregnant Pheobe to hasten off with him and his winnings. Despite a rocky marriage, Pheobe settles into frontier life, but when Pleasant is accidentally killed, Pheobe moves to the New Mexico ranch he purchased before his death. There, Pheobe finds her affections divided between two men, wealthy Mr. Harvey Bearden and Frenchman Paulo. The latter eventually returns to France, after which Pheobe addresses her inner turmoil over her mother’s suicide and marries Harvey. All these characters plod joylessly toward the end of the tale, forced into action by the author’s will. Givens’ characters lack compelling personalities and have no more substance than their names. Instead, the author deluges readers with folksy language and odd phrases, both of which appear sloppy rather than authentic. Pheobe’s guilt over her mother’s suicide, apparently the basis for her unhappiness, is not communicated until the last moments of the narrative–but then neither is Pheobe’s supposed dissatisfaction. The reason for the story’s historic setting is unclear, as the time period is never explored, further befuddling readers. The nearly transparent plot would be served just as well in a contemporary setting. Despite her three husbands and one lover, Pheobe is a sexless creature without connection to or passion with any of the four men she encounters. The few acts of intimacy are so flat as to further alienate the reader.

A historical romance that lacks both historical grounding and touching romance.

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 2006
ISBN: 978-1-4134-7819-8
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online: