I’m a real sucker for sweeping epic tales set in Texas. Before I moved here, my uncle insisted on buying me Texas by James Michener, and I quickly followed that with Lonesome Dove. I’m not a native Texan, but as someone who’s moved so much that I really can’t claim any place, I feel some envy for people who were born and raised in Texas and feel such a fierce pride for the state. So when Roses by Leila Meacham came out two years ago, I was sure I was in for a treat. And I was, just not right away. I got about 20 pages in and gave up. I probably wasn’t in the proper frame of mind to enjoy a romance because I remember being irked by the characters and already annoyed at the protagonist for making really bad choices. I picked it up again about a month ago because I realized Meacham’s second novel, Tumbleweeds, was going to be released soon. Roses did not disappoint. As Booklist said, “Meacham’s sweeping, century-encompassing, multigenerational epic is reminiscent of the film Giant, and as large, romantic, and American a tale as Texas itself.” It’s the story of two prominent families in East Texas, the Tolivers committed to cotton and the Warwicks to lumber. Mary Toliver’s father suddenly dies and leaves the cotton plantation to her, a seeming slap in the face to Mary’s mother and older brother. This understandably causes a major rift in the family, especially when Mary decides not to sell the land. Percy Warwick, the man who loves her, cannot understand her attachment to the plantation and does everything he can to convince her that love and family are more important. The odds never seem to be in the couple’s favor, and their decisions have major ripple effects, changing the lives of their relatives and unborn children for decades to come.
This became a compulsive read for me – I just HAD to know the ending. I alternated between wanting to throttle Mary and feeling sorry for her. Luckily the story becomes about much more than just Mary and Percy. I came to care for the other characters, too. The setting is an integral part of the story, and I enjoyed Meacham’s lush descriptions of the Texas countryside. This put me in mind of another of my favorites, The Thorn Birds, which also has a vivid setting and describes hearbreaking family relationships and a love that never stands a chance. It was a pleasure to immerse myself in such a story again, and I think it will be an equally wonderful pleasure to read Meacham’s newest book.