By Karen Lynn Allen
If you set William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” in the antebellum South you would most likely wind up with something very similar to Karen Lynn Allen’s “Beaufort 1849.”
Henry and Mary Birch would love nothing better than to see their recalcitrant niece, Cara Randall, married. For her part, Cara has rejected nineteen proposals of marriage. Enter Jasper Wainwright, a dashing world traveler, and young widower, could he be the answer to Henry’s matrimonial dilemma? It is over this skeletal framework that Karen Lynn Allen drapes the fabric of her antebellum romantic game of cat and mouse, “Beaufort 1849.”
Jasper Wainwright, a former native of Beaufort, has travelled the world, and has come back to home for an extended visit. His naïve attempt to convince the planters of South Carolina to convert from slave labor to mechanization and wage labor serves as a secondary plot thread weaving through Ms. Allen’s narrative.
Though simplistically written, it is a novel I found hard to read, merely because Ms. Allen did not successfully engage me, as a reader, to care whether her characters succeeded or failed at their goals. So I plodded through it, five pages here, ten pages there, here a sentence and there a paragraph until I had completed the reading her tome, and was happily able to put it down and forget about it. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a bad book, but rather an uninteresting one.
“Beaufort 1849,” is a slightly blurred work. It is clearly not a bodice ripper, but it does lean slightly more toward romance than historical fiction, and treads a little too lightly on the history. Though Ms. Allen’s novel discusses slavery, she keeps the subject at arm’s length and does not dwell on it. Slavery is not the main focus of her book, the romance between Cara & Jasper is, but for a book set in, of all places antebellum South Carolina, it seems to me just a little bit disingenuous.
ISBN 978-0967178417, Cabbages and Kings Press, © 2011, Paperback, 306 pages. $13.95