Spanning three generations and nearly a century, Leila Meacham's "Roses" is a throwback to epic storytelling in the vein of Edna Ferber, Margaret Mitchell, or Colleen McCullough. The book advertising, itself, makes the comparison to "The Thorn Birds" and those are pretty lofty expectations to set as McCollough's "The Thorn Birds" has endured as one of the most beloved romance sagas of its day. In truth, I don't think "Roses" is the next classic in that vein--but I do believe there is a lot to recommend this sprawling tale of forbidden love and family betrayal.
In a small East Texas town, three families of enormous wealth and power come to reside. The Tolivers are cotton tycoons, the Warwicks are lumber barons, and the DuMonts are retail magnates. The mutual respect formed between these elite families set up a social structure that will have long lasting repercussions through the generations for all their progeny. At the heart of "Roses" is Mary Toliver, a heroine we follow for 80 plus years. Stubborn and single-minded, Mary is a terrific and maddening character--epitomizing the strong-willed matriarch necessary for just such a tale. Her male counterpoint is Percy Warwick, a perfect foil and the love of Mary's life. Of course, these two are made for each other--and of course, they can never truly realize happiness in each other's arms. Their grand romance is played through the decades with enormous vigor, and their dance together is filled with small moments of joy but mostly great tragedy.
The first two-thirds of Meacham's tale is terrifically engaging. Fast paced and fun, I was whole-heartedly invested in the Mary and Percy story and all the subplots in the periphery. Galloping through the years, the ill-fated romance stays center stage even as both parties move off into new directions. I enjoyed the characters and even as they created a new generation, that still remained a part of the main story line. However, all good things must come to an end--and ultimately, for me, the book loses momentum for its final third. Concerning itself with Mary's potential heir, Rachel Toliver (the third generation and Mary's double in both spirit and dedication to the family business to the exclusion of everything else), the story lacks some of the pizzazz that it had previously showcased. Still a solid conclusion, it just didn't captivate me in the way Mary's story had--so there was a bit of a fizzle instead of a crescendo.
I really recommend "Roses" to fans of the genre. Ultimately, I'm probably not the book's intended audience but I like to dabble in soapy sagas every once in a while. And, I found most of "Roses" to be entertaining and involving. I genuinely cared for the characters of Mary and Percy, and if you're going to follow a family saga through the decades--that's got to be a positive!