If this book had a neck, I would have throttled it.
For over 500 pages, the story ping-ponged frustratingly between a terrible romance with the most ri...moreIf this book had a neck, I would have throttled it.
For over 500 pages, the story ping-ponged frustratingly between a terrible romance with the most ridiculously shallow cast of characters you'll ever see and short scenes of well-written and well-researched historical events revolving around Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys. If only Barbieri had made this a book about that rascally revolutionary and borderline criminal, but no...
Instead, we get a story about a perfectly beautiful young woman, Melanie, who is the magnetic north to which all mens' crotch compasses point. No matter where she goes, the lustful glances follow. She, of course, is oblivious to their attention until it's pointed out to her, at which time she blushes and becomes even more beautiful, if that's even possible, and suddenly it all turns into a tent-pitching party. I wish I was making this up. Melanie's utterly devastating beauty and damn amber eyes were referred to so many times--and every part of her body was referred to as "perfect" at one point or another--that it eventually became hilarious after starting out as really annoying.
I got the feeling that Barbieri couldn't figure out what kind of guy she wanted to claim Melanie's heart in this book, so she threw in three of them. The most sympathetic one who most readers would root for would be Asa, the middle-aged man who falls in love with Melanie when she's 13 (unconsummated until 3 years later), even though he's 30 years older than she. If you're squicked out by huge age-gaps like that, then give this one a pass - but it's not an Anna-Nicole Smith/Cryptkeeper gross-out!
But Melanie, despite being intelligent and quick-witted (as the author keeps telling us, but all evidence points to the contrary) doesn't realize she has A Good Thing with Asa. Her quivery lady bits are set all atwitter by Stephen Hull, one of the Green Mountain Boys, who has serious emotional issues. He loves Melanie so much he hates her. So intimidated by her loveliness is he that he can't stop abusing and threatening her, but well, he's just so darn handsome and dark and all muscled and everything that Melanie can't help herself. I never knew where the author was going with this character. After he did something awful, (view spoiler)[like slamming her head into a brick wall and then forcing her into his room, making her disrobe, and then raping her (hide spoiler)], he would act all tormented and cry out his love for her and it felt like Barbieri was trying to make him sympathetic, but he only came off as totally psychotic. Any modern-day woman would recognize that right off the bat, or I should hope so! But not Melanie. This cycle happened again and again throughout the novel and still, up until the end of the book she harbored affection and love for this nutbag, and in fact, felt like she owed Stephen for tormenting him so! WHAT????
The third hero in this mess of a romance was Simon. As the book progressed, I actually started to see no fundamental difference between him and Stephen, but only in terms of degrees. Both were jealously possessive of Melanie, but Simon was just nicer and not physically abusive about it. Possessive jealousy was really the author's only expression of "love" shown in the book. Even dear old Asa prided himself that Melanie belonged to him and no one else. It was disturbing, but also cartoonish.
This book is complete nonsense, with a heroine that is annoyingly perfect and impossibly beautiful, where never a scene goes by without a paragraph-long description of clothes (and how they flatter every aspect of her figure), and countless scenes with her unaware of someone watching her as she just happens to be doing something rather twee and perfect, like fingering objects which bring to mind past memories and lead to a wistful expression or smile which only makes her more beautiful. And sometimes dimples dance over her cheeks when she smiles or laughs. The plot is slight and could have been covered in 150 pages, and the characters were about as deep as a desert rain puddle. One star because I actually finished it, and an extra star for the glorious bastard who was the reason this wasn't a completely excruciating reading experience:
The true hero - Ethan Allen, the only male in the book who could stand in Melanie's beatific, perfect presence and not be driven to the heights of lust. AND he beat the Brits' butts at Fort Ticonderoga.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Despite all appearances, this book was a real page-turner whenever I managed to carve out some time. Several details simply deman...more*looks at start date*
Despite all appearances, this book was a real page-turner whenever I managed to carve out some time. Several details simply demanded that I read it: the Vermont setting, a house called Tamarack that hearkened back to my hometown, and that luscious Tom Hall cover art that I could fondle to my heart's content.
This is a huge, lush goffick with all the usual goffick elements writ large, with time to revel in the broodiness and malevolent dwama and twagedy that we come to expect. This story takes its time to unravel the events of 1820 and the unhappy young wife Emelie Carson (through her journal, no less!) and the modern-day woes of her descendant Emelie Milne.
The cold, cruel, puritanical Israel Carson is the villain you love to hate, and his seeming modern counterpart, Justin St. John, was no cuddly teddy bear either. I never cottoned to him, even in the finale when it turns into somewhat less dim sunshine and rainbows for our couple. Somehow when a guy calls his lady an idiot, even when it's described as "tenderly," it doesn't really warm the cockles of this girl's heart. :D
Throughout the book I was trying to figure out just where the fictional town of Welkin was located, because being a Vermonter, I must know. There was internal squee at mentions of real towns that I know quite well, and my best guess is
Just in case you're curious. :P
So, highly recommended for any gothic lovers out there who want their historical and modern yarns at once. And teeming with tragic love, murder, and madness.
ETA: What this book really needs is a family tree in order to keep straight how all the modern day family members are related to each other. There are so many generations involved. But... one of the big reveals would have been given away, so maybe that's why it is omitted. Dang it.(less)
"He was the voice of Vermont. He still is." -- Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Ethan Allen was larger than life in all respects. Folklore contains tales of his...more"He was the voice of Vermont. He still is." -- Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Ethan Allen was larger than life in all respects. Folklore contains tales of his amazing strength, including swinging 100 lb. salt sacks onto his back. With his teeth. Don't mess with Ethan Allen, bitches. Someone's gonna get hurt.
But New York's PTBs insisted that all the land east to the Connecticut River was theirs, by Gawd and who cared that the New Hampshire governor and land speculator Benning Wentworth had thrown around charters in the Grants like beads at a Mardi Gras parade. So when New Yorkers showed up in the Grants claiming the same land currently occupied by settlers who considered themselves New Hampshire-ites, shit started going DOWN.
Ethan, bubbling full of charisma, pulled together a organized militia of these hardscrabble farmers, slapped "The Green Mountain Boys" label on it, and a legend was born.
It could be called guerrilla warfare. Or "freedom fighters." You know, tomato tomahto.
But then.... Revolution! We all need to stick together, right? The British are coming! Of course that means, according to the Continental Congress (the elites in Philly), sit down and shut up "Vermont", you go back to New York and submit to your betters. Let the adults take care of business.
Hell to the fucking NO, said Vermont.
And Vermont took the principles of the Revolution that the colonies were fighting and applied it to their own fight. And won. And became their own Republic surrounded by the colonies fighting King George's redcoats. Even using threats of collaborating with the British to get America's Founding Fathers to see it their way.
I just adored this book. I really knew next-to-nothing about early Vermont history, and a fascinating story it is. Bellesiles packs a lot into 266 pages, and it can get real dense at times, but I devoured and savored every page. The description of the early legal system was colorful, with a tavern for courtroom, nearby barn for jury deliberation, and the outhouse for the jail.
The religious history really interested me, as Vermont started as the refuge of entire families viewing themselves as the new Puritans, fleeing the state religions of MA and CT and ended as a diverse democracy where multiple sects actually banded together to oust ministers and run their own Sunday services. The Religious Establishment (with a divinity degree from Yale a requirement) viewed these people as complete heathens and beyond salvation.
My only complaint is near the very end, while summing up Ethan Allen's influence on the American Identity, he veered into a literary analysis of Melville's Israel Potter which caused instant eye glazing. The book could have done without, but it's not enough to knock down any stars. This book is definitely one for the keeper shelf.(less)
A great collection of the dry, acerbic wit of the Old Vermonter. The author lived in my general neck of the woods, so there were many familiar towns a...moreA great collection of the dry, acerbic wit of the Old Vermonter. The author lived in my general neck of the woods, so there were many familiar towns and places mentioned which filled me with that warm and cuddly nostalgia. There are stories of the famous (Calvin Coolidge) as well as the nameless Old Vermonter who is the spirit of the state - independence. A state so independent that in September 1941 the state legislature effectively declared war on Nazi Germany, beating FDR to the punch. (The story's a little more complicated than that, but it did make national news.)
A good quick bathroom read with some bonus chuckles. But you might have to be a North Country resident yourself to get the humor.(less)