The fortunes of a prosperous Georgia turpentine farmer’s beautiful daughter wax and wane incessantly in this florid successor to Rubio’s Oprah-chosen debut, Icy Sparks (1998).
Toward the end of the 19th century, hard-drinking and probably syphilitic Monroe Miller earns the hatred of his ailing wife, Violet, and spirited 15-year-old daughter, Dalia; professes sodden love for Dalia’s blind younger sibling, Nellie Ann; and risks the family fortune on cockroach races before succumbing to grief following the death of his favorite horse in a stable fire. Dalia relocates to the hamlet of Samson, where she looks for love and settles for dentist Herman McKee. After bearing him a son (Marion), Dalia is re-bereaved when Herman dies. Bolstering her feminist credentials by joining the matron-dominated Samson Historical Society, our second-rate Scarlett O’Hara, with no Rhett Butler to misguide her, marries adipose mama’s boy Walter Larkin. He fathers her daughter, Clara Nell, a natural-born tomboy. During the WWI years, Clara Nell fights for independence by running repeatedly away from home, learning about Margaret Sanger and women’s rights to control their own bodies and wedding dapper Dayton Morris. One small problem: The groom’s father, Dalia bitterly points out, “stole my family’s land after my papa died.” Despite homecooking, herbal wisdom, and sassy moral support offered by the Millers’ exiled cook, Katie Mae, who rejoins Dalia in Samson, things go from bad to worse. Clara Nell won’t listen to her elders and persists in the folly to which Dalia must put a stop, bringing on Further Tragedy and an epilogue that describes Dalia’s progression into madness and despair.
If the corn that suffuses this novel were likker, we’d all be too drunk to finish reading it. Perhaps that would be best.