Linda's Reviews > Property

Property by Valerie Martin
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Dec 05, 08

Read in November, 2008

** spoiler alert ** A short, severe read

The day before Thanksgiving I picked up the books I’d ordered at my local library. I wanted to be sure there were plenty of choices at home since the library would be closed for two days. I found my stash on the “hold” shelf where I recognized the first two books but had no recollection why I’d ordered the third, nor even a clue as to the subject of the thin novel.

“Property” by Valerie Martin turned out to be a compelling if shocking read. The story revolves around Manon Gaudet, a pretty young woman who’s made a bad bargain in her choice of husbands. Now she’s stuck on a lonely plantation outside New Orleans with a boorish spouse who flaunts his bastard child by his mistress, Sarah, his wife’s slave and the property she brought to the marriage.

There’s cholera and yellow fever in the city; threats and murmurings of slave uprisings in the countryside; family secrets and confused memories at home. And running like razorwire thoughout is Manon’s petulant monologue.
Author Carol Shields, in a cover blurb, calls Manon “as complex and disaffected as Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin’s ‘The Awakening.’” Complex, yes; disaffected, certainly. Manon is, after all, mistress of the plantation and yet property herself, given the marital laws of the day.

But this is no story of a woman’s awakening. It is a look inside relationships that are as dark and twisted as the institution of slavery. Martin calls her tale a meditation on “the fantastic and constant perversity of the oppressor to feel victimized by the oppressed.”

It was, perhaps, not the most obvious choice for Thanksgiving reading. And yet it proved a proper meditation for the day — and for the month in which an African American was elected president.

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