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Mary (Tolliver) was married to Ollie (DuMont) for 52 years. He died several years before the book begins and she is now arranging for Percy (Warwick) to inherit her house instead of a family member who expected to inherit it. The story attempts to explain her motivation for the change that surprised almost everyone, including Amos, a lawyer and long time friend of all three main characters.
When Mary pulls this legal switch near the end of her life, Amos is greatly surprised and seeks understanding. He looks past his forty years of life history with these people and reaches for a historical volume written by Mary's great grandmother - a book titled "Roses". It all began when two families, who were enemies during the War of the Roses in England, came to settle near each other in the colonies and agreed to put aside their differences except for the roses their families were known for.
So the Warwicks grew only white roses in their gardens and the Tolliver's only red and everything was harmonious.
One son from each family eventually headed west to make their own way in Texas. Along the way they picked up DuMont and thus we have the three main families of the story.
Even at over 600 pages there is not a lot of fluff in this book. We are taken deep into a snippet of time and then jumped ahead several years, like when Mary goes off to finishing school for a year and a page or two later she is returning home. It's just long enough to pick up an essential character and then get us back to the people and details that matter.
On a scale of 1 - 5:
Sex - the first love scene occurs on page 212 and is very mild. For a sweeping and epic romance, there is very little sex, and when there is - it is not graphic or extensive.
Religion - Percy goes to church every Sunday. Ollie usually goes and takes the children. Mary often works instead of going to church. Church is important but their lives do not revolved around it.
Gruesome - a suicide by hanging, not very detailed. Nothing to keep you awake at night.
Suspense - Several times I was spurred to keep reading to find out how a character would react to big news. It is more enjoyable than suspenseful but because I was enjoying it so much it made certain parts suspenseful because I couldn't wait to find out what would happen.
Morality - On p. 330 insulting obscenities thrown verbally between a feuding married couple. Wife accuses husband of being a "homo". (p. 304) This occurs several times. There are several things that are done with good intentions but at their roots are unethical.
I have always been fascinated by the storyline of unrequited love. Can a love really survive if it is not acted upon and is it really love since it is untested? If it doesn't go through the process - as Alice said in American Wife - "of getting to know another individual far better than was advisable." (p. 339)
The story flows easily. Ms. Meacham has a great style and her choice of words makes reading quick yet still somehow true to the era she is writing about. It is over 600 pages but I felt it read as easily and quickly as Twilight. I was immediately hooked and felt instantly at home in the story. After I finished the book, I thought about and almost missed the characters. To me that is the sign of a good book - when you miss the characters.
I did get slightly annoyed though at Mary's repeated insistence that Lucy was not a suitable match for Percy because, before the flashback that gave us a complete introduction to Lucy, the current day Mary had already asked Percy's grandson Matt how Lucy was. Therefore, every subsequent thing I read trying to prove through Mary's eyes that Lucy was not the girl for Percy was already discredited. I feel like the initial Lucy reference with Matthew should have had a spoiler alert.
SPOILER ALERT When Percy and Mary finally do hook up it's already spoiled. As much as I want to hope along with Mary, I already know they don't wind up together so it was like sipping cold milk from a tall glass and realizing only after you swallow that it is spoiled.
The color of the roses is significant. Red asks for forgiveness and white grants forgiveness. There was a great line on p. 325 when a wife said, "...I'll never forgive you!" and the husband replied, "Well, you never liked white roses anyway."
The first 500 pages were such an easy, gentle read, they were not daunting at all. It was so enjoyable I wasn't even concerned with getting to the end. But then there was a slight shift, starting with the car accident, where it seemed like some of the characters were behaving out of character. They over-analyzed the past and came to conclusions that I had to re-read a couple times to contemplate how they got there and then I didn't always agree with them. And by the last 90 pages I was completely hooked and driven to stay up late or read when I should have been doing something else.
Even in my rush to get to the end, it came upon me too suddenly - I wasn't ready and as I went about my evening business cooking dinner and prepping for the next day - I felt a sense of loss and longing and disappointment that I wouldn't be going to bed with Percy Warwick anymore.
I like how Ms. Meacham kept the decision suspenseful until the end. Percy called Rachel but we didn't read what he said. On p. 595 Rachel told Lucy, "Percy called earlier to tell me his decision, and I've contacted my lawyer with mine." but we still didn't know what it was. That was masterful.
Mary thought God must have a Machiavellian turn of mind to devise the cruelties inherent with growing old. "At the very least, the elderly ought to be allowed an accurate perception of time...to see the years as the stretch they really were, not be made to feel they had all gone in a flash...". (p. 23) Discuss the perception that to a five year old summer is 3/60 = 1/20 of their life. To a 50 year old it is 3/600 or 1/200 of their life.
Miss Mary worried about destroying "another what-should-have-been". (p. 33) Discuss fate versus human intervention.
Alcohol transported Mary back in time. What is your personal transport to the past?
Mary's mom, Darla, felt that the land being left to Mary meant that Vernon loved the land more than Darla. (p. 55) Do you agree?
Mary seemed certain that Lucy was not the girl for Percy - even before she realized the love between herself and Percy - so why was she so opposed to Lucy?
How did Mary's refusal to wear clothes from DuMont as a model shape her future?
"Where did Miles get this fascination for political causes so far removed from his upbringing and heritage?" (p. 133)
Do you agree with Percy that Miles returning to Marieta instead of tending their mother is no different than if Mary were allowed to tend her and would've chosen to work?
Was Percy and Mary's dating arrangement a fair and sound trial?
Mary said she didn't "want to be loved in spite of" who she was "but because of it". (p. 149) Was this truly the situation between her and Percy?
When Mary wanted to buy Fair Acres, Emmitt the lawyer told her it was, "Not a dream come true, but pride gratified...that falls short of greed only because you love the land." (p. 170) Do you agree?
Contrast this story against "A Raisin in the Sun".
Were you suspicious of the birthday party Darla planned for Mary? What did you think would happen?
Is this a spin on the modern day debate of whether a woman can have a career and family both? What do you think? Could Percy and Mary have come to an agreement?
A father with two sons from two mothers loves one and hates the other. Does this remind you of any Bible stories? Compare and contrast.
How do you think the story would have played out if Mary had known the baby was conceived later than she thought?
Lucy married the idol, not the man. Percy married to avoid loneliness and hoped to fall in love but she became unhappy, unsparkly, sad and bitter. (ref. p. 296) How could they get past it?
Discuss how pride is a theme throughout the book.
(ref. p. 250) Mary thought, "[Ollie] would never lack for her affection, commitment, and respect..." Is that possible when, "...in that moment, she felt a movement within her, as if the part of her that belonged to the only man she would ever love had stolen off to curl up in some remote, hidden corner..."?
Should Percy have looked at Ollie's medical record? Were you surprised at how it played out? If you were Percy - would you have handled it the same?
While in church Percy heard the scripture "give, and it will be given to you..." and thought it described Ollie, the "most giving" man he knew. He also wondered, "how it was that he had ended up with a measure so much less." (p. 349) Was Ollie a giver or a taker? According to the Biblical verse, who should have received more?
Percy thought, "if he had to lose the woman he loved to another man...If he had to give up the son he could not claim to another to raise, ...If his other son turned from him to another father to honor and love, he was glad it was Ollie." (p. 349) Would you have been as gracious?
Mary said they should not tell Ollie that Percy knew about Matthew because, "He deserves to be spared further pain. He's already suffered from the fact that Matthew never knew you were his father. It would be too much for him to learn that you were aware of the truth all along." (p. 363) Agree?
Part 1 told us Mary's story. Part 2 told us Percy's story. Part 3 told us Rachel's story. Are those the three characters you would have chosen to read about? If not, who would you exchange?
Matt and his ex-fiance (Cecile) loved each other too much to ask the other to live in a place they wouldn't have been totally happy. Do you agree that it was love - or should love make you happy wherever you are?
Compare Percy and Mary to Matt and Cecile - who's love was stronger?
Is there such a thing as true forgiveness (among humans)? Did Percy and Mary ever forgive each other completely? Why couldn't Alice forgive her daughter Rachel? (ref. p. 489 - Chapter 60)
Were you surprised by the car accident?
Which character was most guilty of betrayal? To whom?
Which character loved the deepest? How was it shown?
On pg. 530 Rachel thought, "How different it all could have been if only her father had known the truth. Her parents and little brother might still be alive..." Do you agree?
On p. 569 Amos wondered, "if Percy had forgotten the damages done to the Kermit Tolivers resulting from the belief that William's father was left out of Vernon Tolliver's will?"
- What damages?
- How was he left out?
Why do you think Mary left Sommerset to Percy?
Why and how could Lucy still love Percy?
What was the curse?
On p. 581 Rachel told Taylor (the lawyer), "Aunt Mary and Percy's deception cost me my mother...!" Did it really or would their relationship have been strained for other reasons?
What is the symbolism in the repeated description of Carrie's cold, white townhouse?
Consider p. 585 - "A man out of dreams was out of life, and his were spent. Not one had come true, not the important ones, anyhow - those of a happy marriage, a loving family, a house filled with children and grandchildren." Was Percy successful?
What did you expect Percy to do in response to Rachel's threat? What did you think was the right thing to do?
Percy went to church hoping for a message to solve a dilemma. Have you ever done that? How did it work for you?
Serve Scotch and Water like Amos drank. (p. 14)
Decorate with white and red roses - or pink.
Our hostess made a really unique arrangement with individual buds in mini-vases.
Serve ice cream sodas (chocolate) like Percy tried to give Mary at the dedication ceremony.
Serve ham, black-eyed peas and fried cornbread like Sassie served for lunch/dinner after Mary's visit with Amos. Serve with iced tea and (Taittinger's) champagne.
Serve gingerbread like Sassie made when Percy came home.
Sassie served a lot of good food. Serve cornbread, cinnamon rolls, coffee and hot chocolate.
Serve croissants in tribute to the French threads in the story (ref. p. 208).
I don't know why Ms. Meacham nor her editor thought to include a Roses Family Tree.
I was not the only one in my reading group who made their own.
My attempt at a family tree of characters: