This novel is set in post-Civil War Georgia as Monroe Miller, a turpentine farmer made rich by his trees, is tormented by an ungrateful family. In a moment’s carelessness, he betrays his family legacy, wreaking havoc on his home life.
The eldest, Dalia, was once her father’s favorite but is replaced by her sister, Nellie Ann, born blind and afflicted. While the sick Nellie Ann offers her father forgiveness and unconditional love, Dalia grows to hate the man who has cursed his family with his rash deeds. Although Monroe is poverty-stricken in his relationships with those he cares most about, this a generational tale places a burden on each generation.
In the first part of three, the family of origin acts out their disdain of Monroe, an alcoholic whose family detests his crude manners and drunkenness. His wife is addicted to laudanum, their second daughter born blind and afflicted, thanks to the father’s indiscretion. The only really strong character is Dalia, a would-be Scarlet O’Hara, but without any of that literary heroine’s courage.
Dalia vacillates between rage and despair, the subject of part two as she moves to a small Georgia town in search of a husband, leaving her family’s tattered history far behind. When Dalia marries and has a child, Marion, she is unable to connect to him emotionally because of his gender. Later a daughter is born, Clara Nell; the mother lavishes all her attention and over-protectiveness on her girl, seeing her daughter as a replacement for the lost sister. Although she attempts Scarlet’ O’Hara’s “fiddle-dee-dee” attitude when dealing with town gossips, Dalia willfully flaunts her actions, suffering for their mean-spiritedness.
Part three concerns Clara Nell’s life as a new bride, the tensions between her husband and Dalia exacerbated by a disturbing history. In her spirited bid for independence from Dalia, Clara Nell has gotten herself into yet another untenable situation, but soon realizes that there are few choices for women.
Throughout the novel, each generation rails against the injustices heaped on women in a man’s world, constrained in their personal freedoms, fueling their identification as victims of a male-oriented society. It is very difficult to be sympathetic for these singularly unattractive characters, a drunken, maudlin father, a laudanum-addicted mother, one blind and afflicted daughter and her bitter sister.
The male characters in the novel are all cast as villains, almost without exception; even Dalia’s well-intentioned second husband fades into the background during her childish manipulations; yet he is always the one to pick up the pieces and soothe his wife’s feelings.
Although the novel makes a strong case for the powerlessness of women at the beginning of the twentieth century, the dialogue is burdened with dissatisfaction and dysfunction, not a single breath of hope for any of the characters. The one constant figure, Dalia never escapes the scars of her childhood, every challenge but another exercise of self-will. Never does she learn from past mistakes. For this reader, Rubio’s self-indulgent generational saga fails to inspire with its tenacious vision of despair.