Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Whittaker Family Reunion

The Whittaker Family Reunion
by Shirley A. Roe

(TheEbookSale Publishing / 1-906-80651-9 / 978-1-906-80651-4 / August 2008 / 200 pages / $15.95 / $6.36 Kindle)

Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

I must confess that initially, I wanted to enjoy this book very much; here I was offered a family saga, centering on a strong and intrepid woman, building a life for herself and her children on the 19th century frontier, after having endured misfortune and tragedy only to have something wicked from out of the past threatening her family, years later. It looked to be just the perfect cup of tea – a bit thinner than the usual sort of family saga, not quite two hundred pages, but I could perhaps anticipate some perfectly lapidary prose, some deft characterization, a tight plot and an authentic sense of time and place.

Alas, no, for any of those qualities, and even the brevity of the book is deceptive, for Reunion is more a continuation of the first book about the Whittaker family, which involved an abusive and brutish paterfamilias dragging three small children and a young second wife off to the far Wyoming frontier. Set twenty years later, Reunion ends on a cliff-hanging note. Doubtless this is intended to lead into a further installment of the saga, for this volume of the Whittaker saga is salted with the beginnings of various plot angles, left unresolved by the final page.

As I said, I wanted to enjoy the book and take no very great pleasure in administering a less than favorable review, but the anachronisms in language and in character’s attitudes eventually became too many and too monumental to let pass. Essentially, this is a late-Twentieth Century soap opera dressed in a few cosmetic shreds of Nineteenth Century raiment. The characters are all but modern; practically none of the high Victorian constraints that would have limited their conduct and attitudes, and formed their habits of speech, are anywhere to be seen. There is no sense of the hurly burly of Nineteenth Century life, nothing of the atmosphere, the very real differences that there are, between our lives and those a hundred and thirty years ago. Would the wife of a man in prosperous and comfortable circumstances really be running a business herself? Working in her husband’s business, perhaps, or perhaps if she were a widow… that struck a false note to me, because of the very modernity of it. And a respectable and well-brought up but willful teenage girl would have not even considered running off to New York City (on the train with some of her slightly older girlfriends), to stay un-chaperoned in a hotel, and to go out drinking and dancing with those friends. This was in the era of Edith Wharton, not Sex in the City. Perhaps a rebellious girl might have gone as far as to go for a walk un-chaperoned for an hour or so with a boy that she fancied to have more or less the same effect on her parents. Among the language anachronisms which struck me was the use of the term “sex slave” – a very modern term, whereas during that period something like the word “concubine” would have rather been used. Finally, the writer fell into the habit of ‘telling’ the readers essential information, rather than ‘showing’ it, through the characters conversations and actions. This could have been a rather interesting and compelling narrative of a family in turmoil, but it was sunk for me on the iceberg of period anachronisms.

See Also: Celia's BNN Review
Of Dreams and Nightmares (the prequel to The Whittaker Family Reunion)
More Info About Shirley A. Roe

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