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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-11-21 16:38
The Tulip Tree - Voices from the past, but little else
The Tulip Tree - Howard Rigsby

Spoilers throughout.  Trigger warnings for gruesome violence mentioned and one animal death.

 

Disclosure:  I'm not sure how I acquired this book, but the paperback edition as pictured was in a large box of gothic romances stored in my workshop.  I do not know the author nor have I ever communicated with him about this book or any other matter.  I am an author of romantic fiction.

 

As I suspected from the beginning, this is a novel I first read probably a half century or more ago, either as a book club edition or a Reader's Digest Condensed version.  The more I read of it, the more I remembered from that initial reading, though I did not recall the ending at all.  That may have been what kept me reading through to the end.

 

I rated it only 1.5 stars for a number of reasons, and I can't say I would recommend it to other readers.  It's not a bad book, but neither is it a particularly good one. 

 

And it's definitely not a gothic romance.

 

Plot, such as it is: Thirty-year-old Kimball Watts is an editor for a New York publishing house.  He and his wife Josephine have two small daughters.  Jo's adoptive parents have recently died and she has inherited their estate, a small farm in upstate New York.  With the cash proceeds from the sale of the farm, Jo and Kim purchase an old house just over the state line in New Jersey.  Kim commutes to Manhattan; Jo stays at home with the two girls.

 

The house is huge -- they aren't even sure just how many rooms it has -- and consists of two smaller pre-Revolution houses joined by a later 19th century central structure.  There's also a barn and some acreage.  The house is in some disrepair but more or less livable.

 

There are few neighbors.  The Stauffers -- George, Helen, their son Bert, and George's parents -- struck me at first as being just too weird, but they're actually "normal," by whatever standards.  They have a live-in maid, Verna, who is about 16 and is an orphan from the local Catholic girls' home.

 

Clarissa Cutler lives next door to the Wattses with her husband and two young children.  Clarissa is an albino African American; both of the children are also albinos.  Her husband Vincent is a handsome black man.

 

A few miles away there are some other neighbors who live in a small cluster of old cabins, apparently without running water or electricity or . . . anything.  They are the descendants of servants and other retainers of the huge and vacant estate across the road from the Wattses.  Among them is Benji Potter, the elderly and somewhat mysterious black man who has attached himself to the Watts home as caretaker and guardian.

 

Though written in third person, this is almost entirely Kim Watts's story.  He likes the house and wants to stay there, but Jo is superstitious and wants out.  Legally, though I'm not sure why, the house belongs to her.  Kim goes through some financial negotiations to acquire the house as community property, but that doesn't seem to help Jo accept the house.

 

Eventually Kim learns about the house's history when a weird elderly lady -- I don't even remember her name now or her connection to the house -- stops by one night unannounced and tells him about it.  There are settler massacres by Native Americans, rapes and murders and mutilations of enslaved people, family murders, and so on.  Kim tells Jo none of this.

 

But Jo just can't deal with her superstitious fear of the house, so she packs up and leaves.  Kim doesn't know what to do.

 

And then they all lived happily ever after.

 

Say, what?

 

Well, that's how the ending felt to me.  There was no build up for the way everything was resolved.  It wasn't as though a whole bunch of puzzle pieces slowly, inexorably, and logically fell into place.  Instead, the various characters did things that as a reader I expected would have some significant impact and move the story along in a specific direction, but they really didn't.

 

Spoilers ahead.

 

Clarissa is beautiful, but weird.  She wears weird clothes, wanders around outdoors in the middle of the night in diaphanous gowns and a long blonde wig.  She drives her Pontiac convertible like a bat out of hell.  Her midnight rambles are described in such a way that you think they must have some significance.  They don't.  Is she spying on the Wattses?  Is she trying to seduce Kim?  Maybe yes to both, but neither is made clear.  Is she trying to scare them out of the house?  Maybe that, too, but again it's all vague and just weird.

 

What about George Stauffer's parents?  His mother is a harridan, complaining, dominating all conversation with her rants, just a horrible person.  The father is apparently an alcoholic, since he's restricted to ginger ale while everyone else has cocktails and wine.  Are her harangues supposed to illustrate how out of touch with the middle of the 20th century she is?  Is she supposed to provide a contrast to Kim's more contemporary view of life and the world?  I don't know, because Kim doesn't really react.

 

In fact, Kim never really grows through the whole story.  There's a hint of his having had to deal with his own experience of racism and some confrontation with his guilt over his inaction, but I never saw any change in him as a result. 

 

In fact, the only character who does change is Jo, and there's never any explanation for how or why she changed.  She just . . . does.  There's never any explanation for why she was so superstitious or why she took all these little omens so seriously.  I see omens in everything, too, but I don't take them seriously.  Why did she?  And why did she stop?

 

What I realized when I finished the book last night was that none of the characters had any depth.  They were almost caricatures, set on the stage of The Spooky Old House with a Tragic Past, and then once the story of the spooky house had been told, it was all over.  The millionaire who owned the property across the road sold out to a developer and the 20th century was being rudely imposed on all the history and spookiness.  The End.

 

The writing is fine, with a lot of description of the weather and the scenery and the moods, but the structure and characterization were flawed.  And it's too late to fix it.

 

 

 

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text 2018-11-11 19:15
Not a formal status report, but . . . . .
The Tulip Tree - Howard Rigsby

I knew I wouldn't be able to stay up and read very long because I was really, really tired when I went to bed.  I did, however, want to start this book.

 

There's no question that this is a gothic romance.  The publisher put it right on the cover!  It's compared to Du Maurier's classic Rebecca. The artwork is almost typical gothic, with the spooky house and single lighted window.  The young woman, however, is in close-up portrait rather than full-length with windblown hair and gown.

 

And the author is male.

 

There are also quotes from a number of reviews published in real newspapers.  Hmmmmmm.  Gothic romances did not get reviewed in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner in the 1960s.

 

I only read 12 pages, not quite the first whole chapter, before I just couldn't keep my eyes open any longer, but that was enough to confirm my suspicions that I had read this book before, decades ago.  One small incident ticked my memory, something I would not have consciously remembered but that came back to me the instant I read it. 

 

There were only two ways I could have read this book in the 1960s.  It was either condensed by Reader's Digest, or it was a Doubleday Book Club selection.  My parents subscribed to both for a number of years at that time.  I read the condensed version of The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglas Wallop as well as his later novel, Ocean Front, though I don't know if that was book club or condensed.  I do remember the cover, however, so maybe it was a book club edition.  I also read two other book club offerings, The Daughter of the Pangaran and Summer Doctor.  I remember details of both those books, and they were published about the same time as The Tulip Tree, so I'm more comfortable guessing I read a book club edition.

 

So in 1963, a gothic romance written by a man would be published in hardcover by Doubleday and be reviewed numerous newspapers, be selected for their subscription book club, and later be republished in paperback.  No doubt Howard Rigsby earned a great deal more for his gothic romance novel than most of the women writing paperback gothics.

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text 2018-11-11 00:04
The Tulip Tree -- a voice from the past?? Maybe.
The Tulip Tree - Howard Rigsby

This is one of the books from the hoard of gothics in the workshop.  Though my (battered) paperback copy was published in 1970, the original Doubleday hardcover was published in 1963.  I think I may have read this, perhaps in a Reader's Digest Condensed version or possibly as a Doubleday Book Club selection my dad had.

 

So I may just keep this one out for a day or so and read it in bed at night, if I'm not too tired.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-10-17 15:45
No one reads the same book twice
The Waiting Sands - Susan Howatch

This has some mild spoilers, so read at your peril. I doubt that many people will end up reading this book, though, so I figured why not?

 

I had a unique perspective on this book - it was a book that made an indelible impression on me when I was around 12 years old. I had found it on my mom's bookshelves, she was a fan of these old-fashioned gothic romances, or maybe at the used book store, and I remember staying up late one night and reading it. The climactic scene on the Cluny Sands etched itself on my memory quite deeply.

 

I didn't remember the name of the book, or the author, or even a single character name (how could I forget Decima or Rohan?), but I remembered the sense of brooding suspense and the horror of being trapped in quicksand. I actually looked for this book for several years before stumbling on The Waiting Sands in one of my random searches. I initially thought that it was probably The Shivering Sands, but reading it ruled it out for me. If I had reviewed this when I was 12, I would've given it a breathless, terrified five stars.

 

But, as the expression goes, you can't read the same book twice. I'm not 12 anymore, drawn to unhealthy, and emotionally abusive, relationships. Things that I skipped right over when I was a girl were unable to ignore as a woman. I'm still giving it three stars, mostly for nostalgia's sake and because the writing was quite good and that climactic scene in the quicksand was still pretty intense.

 

The romance, though, was just a total no go for me. I was astonished when I read Rachel's self-confession of undying love for Daniel after knowing him for all of perhaps 36 hours, both because she barely knew him and because he'd been a monumental asswagon to her. And then her decision to, in essence, pledge herself to eternal celibacy because some guy that she thought was hot for about two days, who was all mixed up in a murder and whom she actually believed WAS the MURDERER, was no longer available to her made me snort aloud. 

 

I've known a fair few murderers, guys. None of them are worth three minutes of celibacy, much less a lifetimes worth.

 

All of the characters were basically vile. Howatch tries to redeem Daniel, and at least partially succeeds, but it's a bit too little too late for my taste. Rachel is a wet mop.

 

This is a test: You find yourself on the edge of quicksand with someone you believe to a be a murderer. You are in a completely isolated spot and there is no one else for miles. He has fallen asleep and you are able to grab the gun. Do you:

 

a. Scamper away and dump the bullets into the quick sand and then pretend you were asleep, too or

b. Hold the motherfucker at gunpoint until you can get back to the boat and escape

 

If your answer is a, you might be the heroine of a gothic romance. Because heaven forfend that you might try to save your ownself.

 

It was fun to reconnect with that moronic tween who used to think that guys like Daniel were romantic. I'm really glad I grew the hell up before I picked a spouse.

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text 2018-10-17 05:40
Updates
The Waiting Sands - Susan Howatch

Page 123:

 

The heroine is dumb as a box of hammers, and all of these characters are vile.

 

Page 48:

 

I agree with Linda about the dog - it's a St. Bernard and better not get harmed or killed. I am thinking that this is the book I was thinking of - the reference to quicksand is very familiar. It scared the crap out of me when I saw about 12!

 

Page 1

 

This is the cover on my copy of The Waiting Sands - totally lame. Also, it doesn't look anything like Scotland to me. What do you all think?

 

I'm getting ready to start this one, although I also need to buckle down on The Career of Evil and get it finished as it is due back to the library quite soon! I'm going to work on both of them tonight.

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