Bandeaux Creek is the second in a trilogy of southern historical fiction novels set primarily in coastal North Carolina, between the Cape Fear and the Black Rivers. The first book, Between the Rivers, published in 2001 by Coastal Carolina Press, centers on Maggie Lorena Corbinn Ryan's pursuit of education and refinement in a region struggling to find prosperity following the Civil War.
In a prologue to Bandeaux Creek, the reader peers into a journal written by a young man who is incarcerated in the state insane asylum, Dix Hill, in Raleigh. The year is 1925, almost a year after Davy McBryde is accused of murdering his mother-in-law and setting fire to her home. Through his journal entry, written for the benefit of his psychiatrist, Dr. Cameron, the reader learns that Davy had hastily married the daughter of the slain woman, Gladys Jenkins, a few months prior to the murder. Although Patty Sue McBryde, his wife, was an accomplice, not only was she not indicted, she has not been seen by Davy since he was arrested.
In Part I, we're introduced to the family of Davy McBryde's uncle. Because of a dwindling farm economy, Rob and Eva McBryde leave their family farm in Bandeaux Creek (Bladen County, North Carolina) following five of their adult children to Wilmington, where three of the McBryde sons work for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad; one daughter is in nurses training at James Walker Hospital, the other a student at Mott's Business School.
The McBryde family purchases a huge old home on Princess Street for "back taxes"and turns it into a boarding house, where Rob and Eva McBryde with their three youngest children eek out a living. Historical scenes from city life in Wilmington between 1924 and 1930 include Wrightsville Beach and the Lumina, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, an oyster roast at Kirkums, and a wedding in St. Mary's Catholic Church.
Readers are hooked in the prologue taken from the diary of Davy McBryde, the nephew of Rob and Eva McBryde. Patty Sue McBryde, Davy's estranged wife, runs her own whiskey operation in Bladen County, unbeknownst to Maggie Ryan's husband, Tate, who has developed a relationship with her. How Davy's fate affects both families is an integral part of the novel's development.
Bandeaux Creek begins where Between the Rivers leaves off, following Maggie Ryan to Boston Massachusetts where she has gone in hopes of getting her book published. Her ambitions unfulfilled, Maggie Ryan returns from Boston to find her husband and Patty Sue McBryde painting Maggie's new house. The fact that she is entertaining the idea of leaving Tate and marrying a young doctor she met in Boston completely escapes her mind. Jealousy takes over. In the meantime, Davy McBryde escapes from the insane asylum, comes home and murders his wife, then retreats to Wilmington where he appeals to one of his cousins, Cal McBryde, to help him get to South Carolina where he hopes to "catch a freighter" and disappear. When Cal refuses, Davy knocks him in the head and takes his car, only to be caught and shot in the back by the county sheriff.
When a major flood inundates the land between the Black and the Cape Fear Rivers, Emily McAllister, a character from Between the Rivers invites Maggie and her sister to come to Wilmington. In the interim, the young doctor from Boston has taken a position in Wilmington. The prospect of seeing Dr. McNamara thrills Maggie until she learns that Emily is engaged to him. Tate is left at home where he is morning the loss of Patty McBryde in his life, his misery compounded by the fact that his son had loved her too.
Two minor characters in the novel, Millie McBryde and Len Ryan, develop an interest in one another when Len visits Emily McAllister in Wilmington. Millie and Len find out that they are cousins, "twice removed" but this does not stop them from seeing one another despite the fact that Millie's mother, Eva, has cautioned her about becoming "too involved" with her cousin.
Eva McBryde has one wish before she dies; to live in the country again. With the fall of the stockmarket in 1929, life in Wilmington deteriorates for the McBryde family. Fortuitously for them, Maggie's brother, Jasper Corbinn, dies and a house becomes available between the rivers, but not until 1931. Millie McBryde, who has not finished high school because she's had to work to help support her family, finds herself in close proximity to Len Ryan and their relationship heats up. Eva only lives in the Jasper Corbinn house six months before she dies.
Historical elements in Bandeaux Creek, reflect the effects of the decline of the economy on families in the period between the "roaring twenties" and the Great Depression. The making of illegal whisky, the "Charleston", women's rights, short skirts and painted lips and nails, indoor plumbing, electrical appliances, regularly scheduled airplane flights, blood pressure medicine and x-rays, all find their way into the story.
The largest segments of this 350 page novel take place in Boston, Massachusetts and Wilmington, North Carolina, providing a platform for the author to contrast attitudes and economic development between north and south, juxtaposed even more vividly with rural Bladen County, North Carolina, where families are leaving the country for the city with hopes of finding a better life, only to see the Great Depression looming ahead of them.
A third novel in this series, Penderlea: A Better Life, is proposed for
the near future. Penderlea will take a new generation (Len and Millie
McBryde Ryan) into the 1930's, and out of the depths of poverty via Franklin
Roosevelt's New Deal. As in the first two books, Penderlea will loosely
follow the author's family, who are the archetype of many North Carolinians
who struggled for a better life in the years following the Depression
and World War II.
A companion cookbook, Aunt Mag's Recipe Book: Heritage Cooking from a Carolina Kitchen (Winoca Press, 2004; $12.00) offers up an extra helping of the culinary culture readers have enjoyed in Booth's fiction.
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Copyright © - 2005 | Carolyn R. Booth