A masterful novel that confronts the dilemmas of race, family, and forbidden love in the wake of America's Civil War.
Fifteen years after the publication of his acclaimed novel Mason's Retreat, Christopher Tilghman returns to the Mason family and their Chesapeake Bay estate in The Right-Hand Shore.
It is 1922, and Edward Mason is making a call upon Miss Mary Bayly, the current owner of the legendary Mason family estate, the Retreat. Miss Mary is dying. She plans to give the Retreat to Edward, the closest direct descendant of the original immigrant that Miss Mary can find. Edward believes he can charm the old lady, secure the estate and be back in Baltimore by lunchtime.
Instead, over the course of a long day, he hears the stories that will forever tie him and his family to the land. He hears of Miss Mary's grandfather brutally selling all his slaves in 1857 in order to avoid the reprisals he believes will come with Emancipation. He hears of the doomed efforts by Wyatt Bayly, Miss Mary's father, to turn the Retreat into a vast peach orchard, and of Miss Mary and her brother growing up in a fractured and warring household. He learns of Abel Terrell, son of Free Blacks who becomes head orchardist, and whose family becomes intimately connected to the Baylys and to the Mason legacy.
The drama in this richly textured novel proceeds through vivid set pieces: on rural nineteenth-century industry; on a boyhood on the Eastern Shore of Maryland; on the unbreakable divisions of race and class; and, finally, on two families attempting to save a son and a daughter from the dangers of their own innocent love.
"Starred Review. Tilghman maneuvers through the misery of three generations, following each elegant plot turn inevitably back to its source: this living, breathing land on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay." - Publishers Weekly
"A haunting tale, richly detailed and thoughtfully planned and written; not a light read, but an enjoyable one." - Library Journal
"Tilghman's trademark nuanced observation and insight are abundantly apparent, but there's no real center to this insistently portentous parable of multiple blight." - Kirkus Reviews
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Rated of 5
A wonderful novel deserving a lot more attention
After finishing this well-crafted novel, and enjoying it immensely, I went to LibraryThing to enter it into my list of books read. I was shocked to see that NO ONE on LT has read this book. In my opinion, the writing is up there with Cold Mountain: it's that good. The characterization was a bit weak, I suppose, but that's a minor complaint. The writing itself is just gorgeous, so maybe only a writer (or, in my case, a writer-in-training) would find that reason enough to read it. My wife couldn't get into it, thought it was too slow-moving.
This is an excellent historical fiction that tries to recreate a time and place, to give the reader a feel for what life was like then. It isn't the typical historical fiction novel that's really a romance novel in disguise. Because it's not a bodice-ripper or a plot-driven thriller, it seems to have found no readership. I'm guessing, I don't know how publishing works. But I'd recommend it to anyone who likes literate historical novels, even if they are lacking battles, intrigue, and that sort of thing. It's a book to savor, linger over, and read again.
Christopher Tilghman is the author of two short-story collections, In a Father's Place, and The Way People Run, and two novels, Mason's Retreat and Roads of the Heart. Currently the director of the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Virginia, he lives with his wife, the writer Caroline Preston, in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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