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Friday, January 8, 2010

Review: Corrigan's Pool by Dot Ryan






The synopsis on the back of Corrigan's Pool is brilliantly written and hooked me right away. Could the novel live up to its promise, I wondered? I had to find out. I'm a native Virginian, also known as a Southerner, and have a natural interest in tales of the Old South. This historical novel, set in Savannah, Georgia during the years 1861 - 1864 promised to be as vivid and entertaining as Gone With The Wind. Who could resist?

Some might say that it's too familiar, stories of the Old South filled with beautiful plantations, idle rich supported by slaves, fancy dresses, and summer romances. What could give such stories new life? What I immediately noticed was the way the story flowed smoothly, the attention to telling details in both scenery and characterization. Mrs. Ryan drew me into her fictional world quickly, effortlessly, and I had difficulty putting the book down.

The story centers around Ella Corrigan, the eldest daughter of a plantation owner who is overwhelmed with guilt over an accident he believes he caused to his wife. Driven to drink as his wife lies in bed with brain damage, Adam Corrigan leaves Ella to run the plantation and care for her younger sister, Honor. Granted, Ella has help in the form of loyal family slaves but it's a lot of responsibility for a young woman. For the most part, Ella is resigned to her lot, has put aside the usual preoccupations with love and marriage and has shouldered her responsibilities with grace. Ryan creates a fine portrait of her as a young woman who has moved beyond the frivolous life so many of her cohorts are leading. She's strong, brave, kind, and has a mind of her own. As family matters continue to deteriorate and war is immanent, Ella's father suggests she marry Victor Faircloth, an older man, a neighbor who has been trying to win her hand for some time. Mr. Corrigan is hoping that marriage to Faircloth will insure his daughter is taken care of and the plantation retained. Even though Ella does not expect to fall in love and marry, she is adamant that she will not marry for convenience. Besides, she finds something chilling about Faircloth.

Someone should have warned Ella never to say never. Unexpectedly, she has a chance meeting, at the beautiful pond on her property, with a rough looking frontiersman, Gentry Garland. Garland seems the antithesis of everything Ella would want in a man, so she is ashamed by her instant attraction to him and covers it with a strong dislike for him. The handling of the developing relationship between Garland and Ella is well done. When Garland abruptly disappears after pledging his love for Ella, the reader's heart is sure to break with hers.

Ella is not a stagnant character and the loss of her lover compounded by other family issues and war negatively affect her. The beautiful twist is that out of her own pain, Ella, marrying Faircloth in desperation, becomes more observant of pain in the lives of others. In particular, living on Faircloth's plantation, Ella learns why his slaves keep disappearing and how this is connected to the beautiful pond on her own plantation. Much as she regrets the loss of the beautiful life in Savannah pre war, Ella learns to question the foundation of that life. Ella's heartbreak has as reward a growth of her character and a willingness to risk her own safety to help others.

Carefully woven together, in Corrigan's Pool, the reader will find the romance of Ella and Gentry Garland, a tale of Georgians dealing with war on their doorsteps, a mystery involving the beautiful Corrigan's Pond, tales of human vice and treachery, and issues of human slavery. Ryan's attention to historical detail, lyrical flow of words, and understanding of matters of the human heart make this a must read. I've bookmarked her blog: http://www.dotryanbooks.com/ and look forward to her sequel.

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