So Far Back

Pam Durban, Author
Pam Durban, Author Picador USA $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-312-26869-5
Reviewed on: 10/02/2000
Release date: 10/01/2000
Ebook - 256 pages - 978-0-312-27168-8
Paperback - 259 pages - 978-0-312-28347-6
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An aging South Carolina heiress confronts her slave-owning family's ghosts in this sensitive, gothic-tinged third novel from Durban (All Set About with Fever Trees). Single at 65, Louisa Hilliard Marion spends her days caring for her dying mother and attending to Charleston's historic buildings.The month after her mother dies, Hurricane Hugo hits Charleston, and lands Louisa in a Red Cross shelter, jolting her out of her routines. Afterward, Louisa devotes herself to her longtime chore of collecting, sorting and assembling a cache of historical documents--chief among them the 1837 diary of her ancestor Eliza. Louisa plunges into the diary, which tells the affecting story of the slave girl Diana, whose independent spirit provoked the Hilliards to particular cruelty. As she uncovers the secrets of Eliza's and Diana's lives, Louisa comes to suspect that a ghost stalks her family's house, moving, scarring and denting the heirloom woodwork and pewter. How can Louisa understand and make amends for her family's history? Will the offended spirit subside if she does--and is that spirit Diana's? Besides Louisa's own (third-person) story and Eliza's diary, Durban's narrative also includes two ""walking tours"" of historic Charleston and a variety of fictive interview transcripts. Though her literary-cum-archeological plot is sometimes slow paced, Durban effectively conveys an American milieu where a seemingly peaceful surface both conceals and alludes to troubled racial relationships in the present and the past. And Durban's carefully managed cast of characters--antebellum aristocrats, slave families and their descendants in the modern South--are drawn with subtle grace, producing a narrative of compelling intensity. (Oct.)
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