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SONOMA ROSE by Jennifer Chiaverini

SONOMA ROSE

By Jennifer Chiaverini

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-525-95264-0
Publisher: Dutton

Chiaverini’s latest Elm Creek Quilts novel revisits Prohibition-era California.

For Rosa Barclay, marriage to taciturn and occasionally violent postmaster John is hellish, despite the verdant Southern California valley where they live and farm. For reasons that are exhaustively (and needlessly for readers of a prequel, Quilter’s Homecoming) detailed in flashbacks, Rosa chose John over her true love, unreliable drunkard Lars, whose family owns the apricot orchards her own ancestors lost decades before. When her parents learn that Rosa’s first child, Marta, was actually Lars’, they disown her (although her mother visits secretly). Lars leaves town after a last tryst with Rosa. When she discovers valises crammed with cash in the barn, she wonders why John refuses to seek better medical treatment for a hereditary wasting disease (from John’s side of the family) afflicting their children Ana and Miguel. (Four other children died of the disease.) In fact, only Marta and 5-year-old Lupita are healthy, inflaming John’s suspicions about their paternity. His abuse of Rosa increases until a particularly savage beating forces Rosa and the children to flee. Equipped with some of John’s cash (proceeds of bootlegging, which leads to his arrest and imprisonment), Rosa rejoins a sober and penitent Lars. They consult a San Francisco specialist who correctly diagnoses the children’s condition. Under assumed names the fugitive family sets up housekeeping as hired hands at a Sonoma winery owned by the Cacchione clan. Like many vintners, the Cacchiones can’t wait out Prohibition without going bankrupt, unless they bootleg their wine. After a raid led by evil federal agent Crowell, and threatening letters sent by John from prison, Lars and Rosa “launder” John’s remaining cash by purchasing their own vineyard in Glen Ellen. How long before John, Crowell and the gangsters operating in Rosa's own backyard close in? Choked by repetitive exposition, the novel wheezes to life in the last 75 pages, only to end too abruptly.

Like an overgrown vine, this book could have benefited from extreme pruning.