Tumbleweeds is the second novel by Leila Meacham, whose novel Roses was a NYT Bestseller a few years ago. Roses I did not read, but Tumbleweeds is the novel of choice for a book club being hosted by my mother and me, so I figured I should probably read it.
It is entertaining, certainly. The story line is tense and, at times, unutterably sad. It follows the story of Catherine Ann Benson, who is orphaned at age 11 when her parents die in a car accident. She is uprooted from her posh life in California and becomes the ward of her grandmother in the Texas Panhandle. At school, she is “adopted” by two other orphans, Trey Don Hall and John Caldwell, a popular and handsome pair of best friends. The trio become inseparable all through high school, until one tragedy and a series of misunderstandings threaten to rip their friendship to pieces and scatter them to the winds.
The premise is your classic love triangle. Obviously, with two boys and one girl, someone is going to be hurt and left out. It was predictable in that way. There were a lot of moments that I wanted to throttle Trey, for his ridiculous assumptions and his stubborn hard-heartedness. Poor Cathy is the most sympathetic character, and seems to be the only innocent bystander in the whole mess of the novel. It is entertaining, certainly. Meacham creates enough mystery and tension to make the reader want to reach the very last page just to find out what secrets everyone is keeping.
The secrets are what got to me the most. No one tells the truth until the very end of the novel. Lives have been ruined, and the poor people of the town of Kersey all have to move on and get over one thing or another. In the beginning it seems that Kersey is an idyllic heaven and nothing can go wrong. But the secrets kept by its citizens, most especially its two golden boys, are what tear it apart. With the exception of Cathy and some of the older people, there is no one who is really likable or trustworthy. It is melodramatic and reminds me of a Lifetime movie. In fact, I would not be surprised to see
Based on the novel by Leila Meacham
A Lifetime Original Movie
sometime. Except I don’t watch Lifetime, so maybe not.
The prose leaves something to be desired as well. It’s very juvenile–not at all as if it was written by a veteran novelist. While the narration is always done in omnitient third-person, it follows different characters after they all split up and go their separate ways. In the chapters that follow the men, especially Trey, Meacham seems as if she is trying entirely too hard to simulate a male’s tone of voice and manner of speaking. It is not at all natural, and this was a real problem for me when reading the novel. I understand it is a special and somewhat unique skill to smoothly portray the voice of the opposite sex, but sadly Meacham failed more than most at this. In a novel that predominantly about men, this is a problem. Also, some of her sentences forced me to read them two, three, or four times, just to discern the meaning. Dialect and accent are great things to write within dialog, but including colloquial phrases in the narration just adds to the feeling that neither you nor your editor know grammar very well.
I read the novel quickly, so there must have been something I enjoyed about it. I didn’t hate all the characters. Cathy manages to turn her situation around and make a decent life out of the misfortune that befalls her in her youth, and for that I admire her. John Caldwell is a great character, and I greatly admire almost everything about him–the exception being his extreme piety, which caused the story to veer wildly from where I wanted it to go. Meacham also created a web of intrigue so thick that it kept me interested despite the fact that the characters were mostly completely unbelievable.
I wish I had more good things to say about this book, especially because my mother read it before me and was raving about how good it was. For plot it was pretty good, but everything else came up lacking, and there are vital things like character and tone that cannot be overlooked. But maybe I’m in the super-picky minority. Has anyone else read it? What did you think?