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Buried beneath a narrative clotted with gasping conceits and oddly connected sentences tumescent with portent--a potentially meaty tale about the colonial Cape Cod marriage between a young Englishwoman and a Massachuseuck sachem. The Englishwoman is Elizabeth Dowland, and her uncle Gilbert Worth is ""a golden, a generous man"" who has proven his loyalty to his Indian neighbors. So, when Elizabeth is nearly burned to death by an outcast Indian woman, tribal leader Wakwa nurses her back to health in his home--and despite the presence of Wakwa's wife, love-and-passion grows between Elizabeth and Wakwa. A marriage-like union is formed; Gilbert, with the help of brilliant, amoral, hard-drinking lawyer Michael Beckett, even pushes a successful court case which awards Elizabeth's dead father's property to her child by Wakwa. But Wakwa's enemies gather: a jealous cousin connives with white minister Hudson to involve Wakwa in scandal and murder; Wakwa is branded as a traitor. Eventually, the Indian council decides that Wakwa and Elizabeth must separate forever. And a grieving Elizabeth, back in Gilbert's house, marries Hudson--who brutalizes her and is himself tortured and killed by a still-loving Wakwa. Swann (The Mists of Manittoo) has a firm, balanced plot here, and she has grounded it in earnest research--with the artifacts of spinning, weaving, crafts, food, medicine, and bee-keeping. But the culture-clash never takes dramatic shape, the dialogue sounds rather like badly translated Sophocles (""Tell me now and fast. What is this gloom?""), and only the most determined readers will want to make the effort to extract this story from its pretentiously wordy surroundings.

Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 1981
Publisher: Scribners