MARGARET CAPE by Wylene Dunbar


Email this review


 A woman (a Yankee, no less) finds her destiny in the Mississippi Delta in a first novel that, despite its ambitions, comes across as a good ol' southern tale of family secrets, racial clashes, and steel magnolia women. From childhood, Margaret Cape has been told that she has a ``story of her own.'' Her father, a Massachusetts doctor, assures her that the story will be revealed only ``if she learn[s] to seek it.'' Margaret spends the rest of her life looking for signs that she's on the right track, first in her native New England, later in Mississippi. The narrative is told in sections that move back and forth between her past and the months following the fatal fall of Margaret's son, 43-year-old Chapin Finley Cape. This fall not only precipitates a search for missing wills by relatives and developers who have designs on Rosamond, the ancestral plantation that belongs to Margaret, but awakens her from the catatonic state into which she'd slipped in 1966. Margaret, a nurse, had fallen in love with the much-older Big John Cape, who'd come north in 1937 for treatment of what he thought was a fatal disease. He lived, but his wife died, and Margaret, entranced with his stories of the Cape family and Rosamond, soon accepted Big John's proposal and settled on the family plantation. When Big John dies, Margaret marries his son, the rough, violent John Buie, and has two sons (Buie and Chapin) of her own. By the 1960s, racial change is roiling Mississippi, and her beloved son Buie--in love with Caraly, his black childhood friend--pays a terrible penalty for marrying her. John Buie dies on the same day as his son, and Margaret becomes catatonic. When justice is finally served, after documents are found hidden in the decaying Rosamond, the now-awakened Margaret's story is complete. Shades of Grisham, Percy, and Welty, in a story that tries too hard to be too much.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-15-100248-7
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1997