THE PASSIONS OF EMMA by Penelope Williamson


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A veteran romancer returns with her third hardcover (The Outsider, 1996, etc.), a flowery valentine to friendship and the love that crosses all boundaries. Williamson co-opts Edith Wharton territory in this story of a buttoned-up Edwardian American and the wild, marauding Irish boy of her dreams. In the mill town of Bristol, Rhode Island, at the turn of the century, Emma Tremayne (one of the ""wicked and outrageously rich Tremaynes"") lives in the lap of gentrified luxury in a well-ordered, confined society of ""rules and duties and reproaches, of must-do's and must-nots."" Emma's father has deserted her cruel and slightly delusional mother and is now living with his ""doxies"" in Havana; her homosexual brother has committed suicide; and her sister is crippled for life and drugging herself with chloral hydrate. But no one talks about these things. Instead, everybody talks about the weather. Then into Emma's life, just as she's about to marry successful textile tycoon Geoffrey Alcott, comes mill worker Bria McKenna. Bria, dying of consumption and pregnant, and her brother Donagh, the parish priest, become the spiritual center of the story, representing the power of love. Though they come from vastly different social classes, Emma and Bria not only become best friends, but Emma unwillingly falls in love with the young woman's husband Shay. Meanwhile, not long for this world, Bria hatches a scheme to bring together all the people she most loves: her friend Emma, her husband, and her three wee babes. It's only after her death that Shay and Emma give in to their powerful attraction. But can people from such dramatically different worlds really find love and sail into the sunset (on Emma's trim little boat)? In one Grand Guignol sequence, Emma's family sends her to a 19th-century asylum to cure her of her irrational passion. But not even straitjackets can alter the course to a happy end. A clichâ, yes, but an extremely satisfying one.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1997
ISBN: 0446605972
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Warner