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Improbable plot makes for a disappointing debut about a once-grand southern family who loses almost everything in the Depression but somehow keeps going.

The beginning is promising as Louisiana-born Colonel Riant, back from the Civil War, moves to Mobile, Alabama, where he marries wealthy Regina. This first Regina—there are two others—is soon felled by yellow fever, and the grieving Colonel (the most credible character here) devotes himself to good works, business ventures, and running the city’s only newspaper. Fifteen years later, he marries again—another Regina—in what is for both a marriage of convenience: he needs a family, she needs money. Regina Two, not the warmest of women, has four sons whom she spoils rotten, then a daughter—Regina Three—who becomes the protagonist of the novel, which is like one of those dreams where people inexplicably appear, then just as inexplicably disappear in disconnected scenes. When Regina is 17, in 1915, she falls in love with visiting Chinese Ahlong, a college friend of one her brothers. Ahlong proposes marriage, and the family gives it their blessing—stretching credibility, given the racial prejudice of the era—but Regina feels obliged to stay home and take care of the Colonel, so exit Ahlong. In 1919, she abruptly marries Charles Morrow, who is ambitious but increasingly unstable, and moves with him to his remote timber plantation. Then just as suddenly they’re back again with the Riants in Mobile, where Regina now has three children and the eldest dies of leukemia. Charles fatally shoots himself while drunk, and Regina’s brothers do little but spend money before suddenly marrying after years of bachelorhood, a decision compelling them finally to seek employment. Regina struggles to survive the Depression and is saved emotionally by a surprise visit from a relative—and, financially, by an unexpected windfall.

Little connects, and the pretentious prose is as enervating as the climate.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 1-59420-025-4
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2004