Davies’ debut novel, set in Florida in 1912, isn’t as erotic as it appears to be at first glance; rather, it’s a story of love, lust, and the troubles and secrets that come with having a family.
Innocent Emma tries to stay wholesome in a world where she’s been forced to dress actresses who don’t hold themselves to the same moral standards. But after Tom, a selfish, irresponsible man, sees her stand in as a belly dancer for an absent actress at a silent movie shoot, his whims trap her in the confines of pregnancy and a fake marriage. Though Tom is abjectly despicable, few of the characters are especially likable. Emma’s a lukewarm, good girl, and Veralee, her bitter aunt’s maid, doesn’t get enough time to become as well-loved as she probably could. That’s not to say the characters are one-dimensional; instead, their dynamism keeps the story moving by revealing enticing, new facets of personality. A murderer has a heart; the uptight aunt has a long-buried secret that viciously taints her relationship with Emma; and even Tom, the trickster who will stop at nothing to get Emma into bed, takes the time to teach an illiterate man to read and falls in love with his baby daughter (though not deeply enough). The story winds like a lazy river through life in 1912, with a plot that reaches in too many directions in search of a solid conclusion. Fortunately, the meandering first part gives way to a rapid conclusion of events, where everything ties up neatly. Readers may not realize why the minutia mattered until it’s all over.
A slow-moving, intricate but gratifying read.