|Paint The Wind|
|By Cathy Cash Spellman
(Dell, New York City, 1991)
Reviewed by Trace Edward Zaber
|hile browsing my favorite second-hand bookstore, two blurbs on the cover of this paperback immediately drew my attention . . .
An epic along the lines of Gone With The Wind—Detroit News
The Gone With The Wind of the west!—Gerald Browne, author of 11 Harrow House
Well, apart from the similar title, I wouldnt exactly concur. Certainly both books feature unstoppable heroines, women with dreams to win back a life they had lost because of the bloody Civil War; both books contain a bitter-sweet and often turbulent love story; both books are hefty tomes, rich in historical detail that fans of the genre crave. But another Gone With The Wind? In my eyes, probably not. Dont get me wrong—overall, this is an entertaining and well-written book, but comparing it to Gone With The Wind did the novel a disservice by setting up expectations. Since this novel falls short in several areas, I believe its unable to match the punch of Margaret Mitchells unforgettable masterpiece. Then again, what book ever could?
Paint The Wind is not so much one womans story, but the story of three individuals . . . Françoise Deverell, known to all as Fancy, Matthew Hart McAllister, and Harts older brother Chance.
The story begins near the end of the Civil War when Atticus, a mature yet hardy slave of Beau Rivage Plantation in Louisiana, violently rouses ten-year-old Fancy from her bed, whisking her to safety as Yankees set fire to the mansion and murder her affluent parents. The grief-stricken orphan, pampered and born of privilege, is left with nothing but her unwavering determination to regain the material possessions the fates (and the Yankees) have stolen from her. With Atticus as her sole companion and trusted mentor, Fancy begins the long and painful journey toward her goal, and along the way, gains strength of character and knowledge about life.
The twosome eventually make their way to St. Joseph, Missouri, intending to join a wagon train of settlers heading west—dreams of California gold fill the head of the now-teenaged girl. Unfortunately, traveling costs money, and with none in their pockets, the girl and the ex-slave are forced to seek employment at a traveling circus. There, amid of variety of strange and amusing characters, Fancys natural gifts as a singer and actress begin to take shape, and when months turn into years, her talent grows considerably. Still, dreams of the west continue to occupy her thoughts, and with the old and faithful Atticus at her side, she abandons the exciting yet grueling life of show business in her desperate quest for greater riches.
Meanwhile, also orphaned and heading west in search of a better life, the two McAllister brothers finally land in Colorado, where they embark on learning how to mine the endless mountains. Hart, a titan of a man with flaming red hair and a gentle, sensitive soul, has dreams of going to Yale and developing his skills as an artist. Chance, however, who persuaded his brother into working the mines for several years, is, with his dark hair, lean carriage, and charming ways, considered not only the handsomest miner in Colorado, but a man with a promising future. As his name implies, he is also a gambler by nature, and as lucky as a short-tailed cat in a roomful of rockers.
The trouble begins, however, when Fancy and the brothers cross paths. From that point, nothing in their lives will ever be the same. As one might imagine, both brothers fall in love with her. She, however, is torn, and Ill give you only one guess as to which brother she eventually gives her heart . . . you guessed it, the dark-haired, silver-tongued gambler. Additional problems arise when Fancy realizes shes pregnant with Chances child, and before she drives a deeper wedge between the brothers, she flees to Denver in search of her old circus chums.
This is where, in my eyes, the story takes an abrupt and unnerving turn. Up to this point in the story, things remain believable and historically accurate. But Fancys labor scene and several other scenes revolving around her fortune-teller friend, Magda, are decidedly bizarre and do not fit in with the rest of this novel. We are suddenly thrust into fantasy—magic realism—with magical potions, spellbooks, crystals, and over-the-top shape-shifting. This section of the book does not, thank the heavens, last long. I did, however, find myself skipping pages until I was again steeped in historical fiction. I dont know what the author attempted to accomplish, nor do I care. I just wanted the book to tell a story of something that might have actually happened in the real world. Crossing fantasy with historical is nothing new, and there is definitely a place for it in literature. But when only a small section of a book is devoted to this genre-crossing, and its inserted with no warning whatsoever, I cant help thinking it was an error on both the authors and editors part to include it. Frankly, it added nothing to the tale except for utter disbelief and extreme laughability. It dragged me out of the time period. And with more than 800 pages in paperback, mind you, these scenes could have easily been eliminated without a second thought.
Sorry for the digression. Now, where was I? . . . oh, yes, Fancy eventually travels to New York City with her daughter and makes a name for herself as a stage actress. There, she meets a man who teaches her about business, and when she decides the time has come to return to the west and continue seeking her fortune with her newfound business acumen, can she do so, knowing her path will possibly lead her straight into the arms of the rich-and-getting-richer Chance McAllister? And will he accept her and the daughter he never knew existed? And will Hart McAllister succeed in overcoming his unrequited love for Fancy and attain his own goals of becoming an artist? And when, on his travels, hes saved from certain death by an Apache warrior named Gokhlaya (alias Geromino), can he find happiness living among the tribe, or better still, can he ever forget Fancy?
Obviously, with a book of this grandiose size, its too difficult to give an accurate picture of the entire story. Just know, that along with Fancy and the Brothers McAllister, the reader will encounter many twists and turns, captivating heroes and dastardly villains, glowing triumphs and heart-wrenching tragedies. Many of the numerous and generally-engaging subplots could have been full novels in their own right. Its only that bizarre journey into Neverland that I couldve done without. Regardless, the historical details are awesome, the character-development is applaudable, and I would certainly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Colorado and Apache territory during the latter half of the 19th century. Though it might not be the next Gone With The Wind, it definitely kept me entertained.