on July 22, 2012
Marie-Anne Mancio has plunged us into the low life of antebellum America of the late 19th century. She has created four well drawn female characters who are forced through circumstance to make a crucial life changing decision.
Katharine, a slim girl with a dreamy writer's imagination, is marked out from all around her by her height and her red hair. She is taken by her uncle to New Orleans to "get and education". She learns a lot but it's not the kind of education her family were expecting!
Abigail, another slim girl with "bony arms and legs" is a determined girl who battles to build a successful hat business in a two-bit town. When her lover, the preacher and thief who we met in Katharine's story, absconds with the bank's money and the business burns down, she embarks on a long boat journey and en route settles angrily for a safe marriage.
Seraphine is probably the least sympathetic character of the four girls. She cynically believes the almost-true assertion that white people are constantly "conratulating
themselves on their own generosity". Seraphine lies and deceives her way through life and by the end of her story she'll have a big surprise for the reader.
Emily loses her voice and her father's love when her voice braks and she can no longer hit the high notes. She embarks on a violently unsuccessful and barren marriage to a French Creole and after a hellish few years with himn she finally, with the help of her maidservant, manages to get shot of him.
Whorticulture is an excellent novel that is littered with unfaithful men who appear to think with their groin and they link all of the girl's stories but the reader should remember that prostitutes, like policemen, only come into contact with a certain section of society. The characters seem to be in the kind of hell that Sartre wrote about in his play No Way Out.
Having travelled across America I know that racism still exists over there so this is timely reminder of what it once was like in the States and may be bubbling under the surface.
Author Marie-Anne Mancio has researched this book incredibly well and the way she pluralises the scene in Cincinatti when Katharine arrives effectively evokes a bustling, crowded city. Also her command of simile is superb; they are powerful but not overblown and are always relative to the text. When Seraphine and her sister Arlene are hoodwinking the brothel madam the deceit was as "smart as a steel trap" this simile conveyed their ruthlessness.
On a lighter note when Katharine meets the green eyed Uncle Meredith she feels it's like "the first day of spring in a meadow" this simile looks forward to her love affair with him and contrasts with the dusty filth of her hard working family.
I enjoyed this short novel very much because it was so well written and thought provoking.