“Roses” by Leila Meacham is an engaging multi-generational saga set on a cotton plantation in eastern Texas. In the early 1900s three friends who came from South Carolina settled in the small town of Howbutker, agreeing that they would never borrow from each other, since that was the surest way to end a friendship.
They also agreed that if any of them ever offended another, they would offer up one red rose as a token of apology and if forgiven, a white rose would be returned. Two of the friends were descended from the English families who feuded in the War of the Roses, but these friends vowed that all feuds were over.
All three men prospered, one starting a mercantile business, another a timber farm, and the third deciding he wanted to continue growing cotton, as that had always been his life.
Farming was in his blood. His intense love of the land he passed down to his daughter, Mary Toliver. When he died, he left all the land to Mary, knowing she would do everything possible to keep it in the family, whereas his wife and other child, a son, would just sell the place.
Thus began a family rift that spread through three generations. When the novel begins, Mary is 85 and has just rewritten her will. She loves all her family and hopes they will understand why she has left the Toliver land and their family heritage to none of them.
This saga is a page-turner filled with vivid characters involved in deceit, resentments and tragedies. They love, feud and plot over the land. The author delivers interesting portraits of Southern aristocrats. The novel takes the reader through both wars and the Depression, when crops failed and there was nothing to fall back upon. There was a ditty they all knew about cotton: “First day white, next day red, third day from birth, I’m dead.” If there was a hail storm when the cotton was ripe, all could be lost in one afternoon.
In many ways “Roses” is reminiscent of “Gone With The Wind,” but the setting is Texas, long after the Civil War. A way of life was coming to an end as synthetics eclipsed the demand for cotton. The story and its characters take the reader away to another place and another time.