The Ebony Swan, by Phyllis A. Whitney

>> Friday, August 15, 2003

The Ebony Swan,by Phyllis A. Whitney is a book I've had in my TBR list for years and years... at least 6 years, easy.

At a crossroads in her life, Susan Prentice decides to make contact with her maternal grandmother whom her father had forbidden her to see since Susan's mother's death from a tragic fall almost twenty-five years earlier. There are so many questions she wants to ask - about her mother and her own dimly remembered childhood on Virginia's eastern shore. Susan is also determined to get acquainted with her grandmother, a reputedly difficult woman, on her own terms.

Traveling across the country to the lush Southern land of her birth, Susan has no way of knowing that her entire life is about to change irrevocably. Once there she discovers that her mother's death may not have been an accident and that her return has caused anxiety among people who fear what may lie dormant in Susan's memory.
Whitney had a very interesting story to tell here. Unfortunately, the way she did it was so boring that I can't give this book more than a C.

I never felt like I knew the protagonist, Susan. She was completely flat. I've no idea of who she was or how she thought. Consequently, I couldn't really care what happened to her.

The worst part is that Whitney obviously knows how to do good characterization. Susan's grandmother Alex, for instance, was a very complex character, and she was one I understood. Plus, she was 10 times more interesting than Susan... a former Peruvian ballerina who'd married a much older famous novelist and had emigrated with him to the US. This is one person I'd really love to read about! But no, we got some Alex (the reason why this got a C and not a lower grade), but the protagonist was that boring twit Susan.

I'm thinking this might have worked better as a gothic, I suppose. What I mean is, I liked Alex's characterization, but maybe if we hadn't known her agenda, this might have made a more gripping tale. I don't know, I guess we might need a more interesting heroine for this book to work as a gothic.

Another big problem I had, one that was related to this I just mentioned, was that we knew everyone's motivations; many secondary characters had heart-to-hearts about their nefarious plots at the drop of a hat. There's one point where there's been an accident and Susan gets a visit from a guy (a few pages later) who tells her he arranged the accident to scare her into leaving because he wants his girlfriend to inherit Alex's money and he's afraid the $ might go to Susan. Poof, all suspense gone from that subplot. And it was all like that...

The romance was so subtle it was almost non-existent. This was suspense, not gothic romance or romantic suspense. I don't know if more romance would have made it better, though.

I hate books with horrible plots and characters, but it's books like The Ebony Swan that depress me... all that unexploited potential!

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