A Bittersweet Love Story of the Old South

THE best, most alive, most believable writing in this thick tome can be found in the last 10 pages - the afterword written by Eugenia Price. In those pages she talks about her research for this historical novel, about the support and love of her friends, and about her feelings for her beloved St. Simons Island in Georgia.

"I doubt that the early residents - the Coupers, Goulds, Caters, Armstrongs, Wyllys, Pages, Kings, Frasers, ... or any of those others, who lived on nineteenth-century St. Simons Island - thought much about the fact that they were making history of any kind," she says. "They simply shared one another in varying degrees of affection and loyalty - black and white - and as we do today, they shared the communal beauty of this singular Georgia barrier island."

As she talks - well, of course it's as she writes, but it sounds so warm and personal that you feel she is talking just to you - it is easy to understand why Price has attained legendary stature among her many readers and friends.

How wonderful it must be to be included in Eugenia Price's warm glow of friendship! How much fun it would be to see St. Simons Island (a place I have visited many times) through her wise and informed eyes.

Most impressive, though, is Price's obvious regard for the historical accuracy of this novel. "Where Shadows Go" is the second volume in the Georgia Trilogy ("Bright Captivity," published in 1991, was the first). Her fans will be glad to learn that the third novel in the trilogy, "Beauty from Ashes," is already under way.

"Where Shadows Go" continues the story of John and Anne Couper Fraser as they return from London to live on St. Simons Island, Anne's home. Because this story is based on the lives of real people (some of whom are buried on St. Simons Island), Price explains, "These are basically true stories.... Knowing what lay ahead for book three of the Georgia Trilogy, I had no choice but to stick to the facts, heartbreaking as they were...."

And so, filled as I am with admiration for Price's meticulous research, her dignity, and the warm voice that rings clear in her writing, it is almost heartbreaking to report that "Where Shadows Go" isn't a very good book.

The characters may be based on real people, but they rarely seem real here. Anne Couper Fraser is the sweetest, most loyal wife in the world.

Her comfortable, slave-attended life seems to consist merely of one petty fret after another. We are constantly told how intelligent Anne is, but, based on her thoughts and dialogue, there's little evidence.

She knows that her husband is troubled by owning slaves, and when John bids on slaves at his first auction, his father (who also opposes slavery) insists that John look each slave in the eye.

"No one knew better than Anne that John had said some puzzling things to her over the years...." Price writes. "Should she ask why Father Fraser made him promise to do such a strange thing as look into the eyes of each Negro he bought?"

Worse still, from a writing standpoint, the couple's conversation on this occasion disintegrates into a cliche-ridden discussion of eyes ("Do you also remember that our eyes seemed to embrace?").

And later, after something bad happens to someone else, this grown woman and the mother of children comes to a stunning conclusion:

"Clinging to him, Anne sobbed, `John, John dearest, life is - life is dangerous, isn't it?' " If only Price's characters could talk as naturally as she herself does at the end of the book. Instead, the dialogue is painfully awkward and unnatural, almost expository in places.

The story goes on, but this reader's interest did not move forward with it.

There is no denying Eugenia Price's popularity. But in "Where Shadows Go," her concern with historical accuracy overrode the novel writer's attention to dialogue and the development of believable characters.

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