For her first historical fiction, Daugharty (Like a Sister, 1999, etc.) turns to a post-bellum plantation in southern Georgia, where changes are on the way but old habits linger.
Staten Bay, where the story is set in the late 1800s, is a sprawling plantation near the Ofenokee swamp. This isn’t the magnolia and azalea South: its inhabitants are poor and the soil sandy, while the major activity is extracting turpentine from the surrounding pine forests. Daugharty vividly describes this process as well as the plantation itself, though she is less compelling as she tells the story of the inhabitants of Staten Bay, who are familiar genre stereotypes more than credible individuals. Doll Baxter, the protagonist, is 17 when Daniel Staten comes calling to say that he intends to marry her. Doll lives with her elder sister Sheba and their widowed mother. Their farm is mortgaged, and the women are having a tough time making a go of things. Doll, who has vowed never to marry, at first rejects Daniel’s proposal, but when he offers to pay off the family’s mortgage, she realizes she has to accept—but on her terms. Doll has a long list of demands that include sleeping in a room of her own, not consummating the wedding immediately, and returning home to Mom whenever she feels like it, which, as it turns out, happens frequently over the years. Daniel, however, in typical romance hero fashion, is sexually attractive, and Doll finds her resolve weakening. But not for long. She soon learns that Maureen, the beautiful black housekeeper, is Daniel’s mistress (at one time both she and Maureen are bearing his children), that he frequents a local whorehouse, and that his visits to New Orleans on business actually involve other women. All this makes Doll head to Mom, and eventually she demands her separate home, where she brings up their children. A fire, a family tragedy, and time, however, mellow both Doll and Daniel, though yet more tragedy is on the way.
Memorable setting, uncompelling plot.