Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Swan by Frances Mayes

Those of you who have read "Under the Tuscan Sun" and "Bella Tuscany" know what I mean when I say that Mayes prose is luminous. Her words about the gorgeous surroundings and fascinating people of Italy make the reader want to hop a plane for Rome after they turn the last page of the book.
I've even seen the movie version of Under the Tuscan Sun with Diane Lane, and found it not as enriching as the books, but not a complete waste of time, either. As movie adaptations go, it was fun and a good use of a couple of free hours.
So I gasped and grabbed the copy of "Swan" that I found in a used bookstore with all due joy--here was yet another feast from the author of the aforementioned robust and lush nonfiction. Fiction, being a stringent discipline, from what I've gathered from those who write it, wouldn't be a match for the gutsy Mayes, I figured. She'd probably have it sewn up in a jiffy, plot, characters and all.
"Swan" takes place in a small town in Georgia, full of Southern characters and wierd happenings, so it starts out at a nice, languid pace, but gets to the action in plenty of time to catalog reactions. The mother of the main characters is exhumed and her fathers grave is defaced by some unknown assailant. All the little old Southern ladies have apoplexy, of course and there's much flashbacking and guilty reminiscences about the deceased. Many things come to light for the readers, but unfortunately, the author doesn't see fit to enlighten the characters about most of the revelations, so they just bungle along until the end, which is horribly unsatisfying, almost cruel in it's abruptness.
We never find out who exhumed the body and defaced the grave marker, nor do we find out if one of the main characters has a different father than the other. None of the mysteries are solved, and distressingly enough, the main characters are left hanging as well.
Shame on Mayes for doing this to those of us who expect more of such a fine wordsmith.

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