Friday, August 19, 2011

The Color of Dust by Claire Rooney

Publisher:          Bella Books

The Color of Dust is a story within a story. Carrie Bowden arrives from Chicago to see the property in Virginia that was willed to her by a grandmother she didn’t know she had. Carrie’s life in Chicago wasn’t very fulfilling so, when she finds she’s been left an old mansion and a considerable amount of land, staying in Virginia seems to be a way to start over. She’s concerned about moving to a more conservative area, especially in a small town, but meeting the beautiful antique dealer Gillian Dumfries might make it a risk worth taking. 

Strange things begin to happen immediately and it becomes clear that there is a mystery involving the old house. Carrie is drawn into the story of her grandmother, a woman who had a reputation for being cold and heartless, but who was at the center of a story of passion between women in the early 20th century and the tragedy that could be evoked by that type of love. As spirits manifest themselves, Carrie finds herself living in two worlds. As she grows more accustomed to the past, the strength of Gillian’s love may be the only thing that can keep Carrie in the world where she belongs.

Rooney uses a modern story to set the reader up for a history lesson and there is a lot to learn in this book. Old plantation houses and the gentrified families that inhabit them often form the core of small town existence in the South and such is true of Columbia, Virginia. The reader will get a sense of that dynamic as Carrie brings the house back to life and the town acquires a spark with it. Underlying this is a harshness about the past that lurks near the surface of life and colors everything that happens. Rooney taps into this as she unravels the stories of Celia and Lilly and shows the brutal attitudes that could exist towards homosexuals.

By comparing the two stories, the reader will learn that attitudes have improved, but not necessarily by much. The purpose of the book is obviously to tell the story from the past, which results in less development for the characters in the present. There are several hints provided about both Carrie and Gillian that are never resolved and would have added to understanding them better, but there is enough told to carry them through the second story. There are several places where words are left out of sentences, which is irritating, but it doesn’t obstruct the story.

In all, The Color of Dust is a strong story about two pairs of women who pass through the same place, but at different times and with different results. There is romance and mystery with a touch of history and very entertaining.

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