Saturday, July 19, 2008
Price, Eugenia. 1983. Savannah.
First sentence: Hands gripping the rail of the plunging schooner Eliza, young Mark Browning, his well-tailored clothes wet and rumpled, stood on deck alone, determined not to be sick.
Eugenia Price, along with Margaret Mitchell, was one of the primary reasons I first fell in love with historical fiction. (Or perhaps I should say historical fiction with more than a couple of splashes of romance added into the mix.) (I honestly can't remember if this series "found" me in eighth or ninth grades. But definitely back when I was in high school.)
What is Savannah about? To make it short and sweet it is a story of a young man coming-of-age in the city of Savannah in the early nineteenth century. (Think the war of 1812). Mark Browning. Just twenty or so when we meet him. Wise in some ways, naive in others. But without a doubt, the best day of young Mark's life was when he met Robert Mackay, family man and merchant.
Mackay is the owner of Eliza, a vessel named after his wife. He takes pity on the young man and cares for him when he falls sick on the ship. He also takes him into his own home back in Savannah. There he is welcomed by Eliza Mackay, the ever-faithful and near-perfect wife, and the couples' children: Jack, William, Eliza Anne, and Kate. (Though I can't quite remember if Kate had been born yet.) There he is welcomed, and there he remains until the day--some dozen or so years later--when his own house is completed and he begins keeping house with his own wife and child.
Mark, an orphan with no known family, comes to a new city, a strange city and finds refuge. His mother had been born, so he was told, in the city of Savannah. And it was in Savannah that his mother had met his father, Mark Browning, Sr. He has now come to that city to see if it holds some power over him. If perhaps he will find something he's been looking for his entire life--a place to belong, a place to call home. The minute he sets foot in Savannah, his love affair begins. He begins working alongside Robert Mackay. And soon he is made partner in Robert's business. But this arrangement isn't just good for his career. No, Mark genuinely becomes part of this family. The couple loves him. Sees him as a son. And the children idolize him. They cherish him. Cling to him almost.
This illustration of Southern hospitality seems strange in some ways to the modern reader. (I certainly can't imagine a modern family taking in a complete stranger for any amount of time let alone letting him--urging him--to become part of the family itself forever and ever and ever.) But if it is strange, it is strange in a mostly good way I think.
Savannah has more than its fair share of secrets. It is an emotional journey with unfolding mysteries and romances. Secrets. Lies. Blackmails. Murder. Passion. Jealousies. A little bit of everything really. It spans the years 1812 through 1825. It is rich in historical detail. It is really just a thoroughly satisfying read.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews