Texas history on a broad, complex scale.

Those Bones at Goliad


A sweeping tale of 19th-century Texas.

In this historical novel, Mills (How Far Tomorrow, 2011) follows a large cast of characters from Georgia and Mississippi to Texas, where they find themselves caught in the revolution against Mexican rule and the short-lived Republic of Texas. Natchez, Mississippi, native Shelby Whitmire, who grows from a neglected youth to a veteran adventurer, is at the core of the narrative, surrounded by soldiers, settlers, innkeepers, and politicians as he travels from Mississippi to the Texas frontier. Navigating nearly fatal situations, he arrives in time for the battle of independence and eventually finds love and settles in his adopted homeland. In a demonstration of Mills’ solid grasp of time and place, fictional characters mix with historical figures, from famous notables like Santa Anna and Stephen Austin to little-known characters including Levi Weeks and Elizabeth Greenfield. Though the book excels in its depiction of heroism in history, it is less successful with subjects like slavery. While there is one prominent abolitionist character, most have few objections to the practice, including Shelby, who at one point equates his frustration over an unrequited crush to the expressions he observes at a slave auction: he “recognized, in the captive’s expression, his own mental state,” though eventually, the “men’s eyes met for a few moments, long enough for compassion and shame to stab at the individual with the freedom to walk away.” Native American characters enjoy a somewhat more nuanced portrayal, though many appear only to shoot arrows into Texan limbs. The writing, generally solid, does become awkward at times, particularly in the roughly two dozen places Mills identifies Shelby by his hometown instead of by name: “The man from Natchez gazed upon this landscape as if it were startlingly new, yet he sensed that the trees and rippling current looked much as they had in early autumn for the last two centuries.” Mills nevertheless keeps the plot moving, allowing the stories of ordinary Texans to outweigh the political rivalries and diplomatic rifts that fill the history books. She captures the effects of war on both soldiers and civilians, and the characters are plausible and engaging figures.

Texas history on a broad, complex scale.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2015


Page Count: -

Publisher: Plain View Press

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2015

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The years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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