A blue-blooded Southern belle’s grandiose life is upended by the desire that consumes her.
Goolrick (The Fall of Princes, 2015, etc.) returns to the gothic influences that marked his first two novels, heightened here by an operatic arc that doesn’t quite ring true. A modern-day prologue finds a young reporter sifting through the ashes of Saratoga, an enormous Virginia mansion that burned to the ground in 1941, taking lives with it. The novel itself is the story of Diana Cooke, who in 1919 is the debutante of the year, destined for high society. On Diana’s burdened shoulders lies the responsibility of saving Saratoga, her family’s home, by marrying Capt. Copperton, a vulgar and violent man who fathers Diana's one saving grace, a son named Ashton. After Copperton dies in an accident, Diana retreats to the lonely halls of Saratoga. Her life becomes infinitely more complicated when Ashton returns from college with his handsome roommate, Gibby Cavenaugh, in tow. Ashton commits himself to fixing up Saratoga, bringing in an eccentric librarian, Lucius Walter, and a high-spirited decorator, Rose de Lisle. Gibby, meanwhile, commits himself to fulfilling the pent-up desires of the not-so-modest Diana Cooke Copperton. As they say, drama ensues. There is an accident. A suicide. A fistfight and a near drowning. “Secrets revealed about the true state of things,” writes Goolrick. “An accounting. Cards shown.” Through it all develops the complex, unconventional triangle between Diana and “the single godlike creature her two men had become in her misted eyes.” Goolrick’s writing is always lyrical, and even simple lines like “They tried so hard it broke their hearts,” or “Love, for him, was archeological, a dig for a treasure he would never find,” are bitterly poetic. Yet stripped to its core, the story is soapy, over-the-top, and plunging toward an inevitable finale.
A lurid and ultimately tragic tale revolving around a woman willing to burn her life to the ground.