I saw the book cover art for The Legacy by Katherine Webb when I was looking for another book, and was instantly drawn to it. I admit it; I’m a sucker for good book cover art. I knew I had to find out more about this book, so I was really glad when I got the opportunity to read it. The Legacy takes place between 1902 and present day, looking at three generations of women in the Calcott family.
One of the things I was fascinated by in grad school was how patterns repeat in families throughout generations and/or affect future generations in ways that can’t be foreseen. The Legacy is an excellent example of the effects that has. Decisions made and secrets kept a century before run lives three generations later in the Calcott family. But above all, this is a story about the things people do when they feel they have no choice, when they feel powerless, and the repercussions of those actions.
Caroline is a shy 18-year-old heiress living in New York City at the turn of the 20th century under the watchful eye of her very strict guardian and aunt, Bathilda. Catherine longs for the freedom to live her life without the heavy restrictions she feels her aunt and New York society place on her. When she is introduced to Corin Massey at a ball, she is swept away by his charm and his tales of his life on the Oklahoma frontier. It all sounds so terribly romantic, wonderful and, best of all, it sounds free! When a short time later he asks her to marry him and move to his cattle ranch in the Indian territory of Oklahoma, she jumps at the chance.
“’Don’t interrupt me, Caroline. Our name is a good one and would have stood you in good stead here in New York. And yet you choose to wed a…farmer. And move away from everything and everyone you know to live in the middle of nowhere. I have indeed failed, that much is clear. I have failed to instill respect and good sense and propriety in you, in spite of all my efforts.’”
The train trip to Oklahoma would have been grueling for anyone but it is doubly so for Caroline, who has led a very sheltered existence. She has never traveled unescorted inside the city, has never traveled at all outside of the city, and has never been responsible for herself in any way because she’s always been cared for by servants.
Because Caroline has lived life as a rare hot house flower in New York society, nothing has prepared her for life in the real world, much less the hardships everyone experiences living on the frontier in Oklahoma. Although she tries to adapt, the alien seeming environment and what she has to endure conspire to drive her to do things so far outside of her values that they will haunt her for the rest of her life. Those things, and the secrets piled on top of secrets needed to hide those things, will also shape and haunt generations afterward in ways no one can foresee.
As children, Erica and Beth spent every summer at Storton Manor in Wiltshire, England along with their cousins, including their obnoxious cousin Henry, and Dinny, a boy from the travelers’ wagons. At that time, the travelers were allowed to camp on the land through a bequest left by their great grandfather, something that made their ancient great grandmother Caroline and their grandmother, Meredith, horribly angry. That anger was something they never understood.
“Meredith forbade us playing with Dinny from the word go, told us not to talk to any of his family, not to go near them, after we had innocently announced our new friendship to her at teatime.”
Years later when Meredith dies, Erica and Beth are given the grand manor with very strict stipulations. They return there at Erica’s insistence. She is determined to discover what happened to Henry, who disappeared one summer when she was only eight years old. Beth has been profoundly troubled since Henry disappeared and has even been hospitalized. Erica is sure if she can solve that mystery then she can have her big sister back again, whole and well. No one has ever been willing to talk about it and she believes that mystery is at the heart of all of the family’s problems. Little does she know the vast web of secrets and mysteries that will be uncovered when she begins her determined search for the truth.
Who was Caroline and why was she so odd? Why did Meredith move back to the manor to care for Caroline when it was obvious they didn’t get along? Why did the women in the Calcott family seem cursed? Why did Meredith and Caroline hate the travelers when Erica’s great grandfather had liked them so much? Why did he bequeath the travelers with rights to camp on the manor grounds? Why didn’t anyone want Dinny to come near the house? And the big question: What happened to Henry?
Katherine Webb has written an intricate and wonderful novel in The Legacy. She has created characters who are so real that you understand perfectly why they do the things they do, even when you know the havoc those decisions will wreck. Caroline is such a product of her upbringing and the times she lived in. Erica is one of those characters I empathize with immediately and would love as a friend. The interweaving of the story between generations is perfect. I was hooked very quickly and felt compelled to discover all of this family’s secrets. If you like historical fiction or mysteries, you will really like this one!
Here’s an excellent video of Katherine Webb discussing the writing of The Legacy
The Legacy will be released on August 30, 2011. If you’d like to pre-order it before then or buy it after it’s released, just click on your preferred online bookseller’s link in the top right column.
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