Monday, February 16, 2009

The Shadow on Spanish Swamp by Genevieve St. John [1967]

I'm going to speed-read the remainder. A huge disappointment. Rates 1 Star on a scale of 1 - 5. It started off very well, including being set in a warm/subtropical environment [Louisiana]; I looked forward to this as an exception to my preference of north, overcast, gloomy, foggy, rainy, etc. The descriptives of the drive through the swamp were wonderfully eerie and quite unique; it hooked me...then let me down. I've read Ms. St. John before [most recent review was 08/01/2008]; that story was terrific all around -- quite UNlike this one.

The story opens with the heroine, June, and her husband driving to his family's estate called Spanish Swamp. I've noticed that Gothics which start out with a married heroine are usually disappointing; or maybe it's just me. It seems they've been married a while, yet after Gregory is killed we discover they're newlyweds of a mere 5 days' duration.

The story is VERY poorly paced and the characters are abruptly introduced, as if you're already to have a solid familiarity with them. Contrasted to that are superb descriptions of the swamp, the estate and house, furnishings, weather. The author was also inconsistent with character portrayal: Sometimes Aunt Millie seems a cultured and refined Southern lady; at other times she comes off as an Okie from Paskokie. And whereas Gregory Thoinot is sophisticated, his brothers are written as backwards and hickish. There is also a burdensome [wet blanket] focus on legal matters.

Included are two "Negro" characters: Morel and his daughter, Iva. This IS 1967 and we know the history of the racial tensions of the time. I've often uneasily wondered if some day these novels won't get branded as "racist" [despite their being woman-oriented] because 98% of those I've read contain only white characters. That having been said, I was glad to see the inclusion of Morel and Iva. But the writing for them is...awkward at best. Iva is lavished beyond reason with what smacks of "white guilt" praise and Morel is sometimes made to say cringe-worthy things like "but we black men knows things; we know's!" It's a combination of stereotyping and fighting against stereotypes, but ultimately the author seemed unable to relax and simply write believable human characters for Iva and Morel too; a pity.

The coup de grace was the family's reaction to Gregory's death. He's arrived home less than 24 hours when he's supposedly sucked into a mud boil while trying to rescue June. A few hours later Aunt Millie and brothers tell June there'll be NO funeral, and the next time the reverend comes around [is this 1892 and he's a circuit-riding preacher??] they'll have him "say a few words over the bog."

Despite that double outrage, Aunt Millie's rude comment in front of the just-rescued [by Raul] and grief-stricken June that she is "just a prissy little nobody with a pretty face" who should have died instead of Gregory, and snapping "I'm not your aunt!" at her, and Gregory's two cold-hearted and welcoming brothers, June decides she's going to stay and fight for Gregory's dream! Yes sir! Gregory wanted to rebuild Spanish Swamp and make it profitable again, and by golly with her [father's] money June is marching bravely onward to do just that! Riiiight.

Even the grief-stricken scenes are rushed and unbelievable. And June doesn't think to telephone her beloved antiques-dealer father in New York that she's now a widow; she simply will await word of what money he can wire to fulfill Gregory's dream.

*Enough.* If the ending does a 180, I'll amend this post. But I doubt that'll be the case. Cover scan from

No comments: