Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Family Greene by Ann Rinaldi

Ann Rinaldi’s latest book, The Family Greene (to be published in the fall by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), is set during the Revolutionary War and in the years after it, but the war itself takes a backseat to the Greene family’s domestic problems. Cornelia Greene, daughter of Nathaniel Greene (second in command to George Washington during the Revolution) and his wife, Caty, is troubled by her mother’s flirtations and rumors of her infidelity as well as doubts about whether or not her father is, in fact, her father. The plot is weak; there is no real resolution to the problem and we never learn who Cornelia’s real father is, a detail that is probably meant as a cliff-hanger but is really just the absence of a satisfying ending. Cornelia’s narrative takes up the second half of the novel and young Caty (Cornelia’s mother) describes her own childhood in the first. There is a huge inconsistency between Caty’s and Cornelia’s narratives. By reading Caty’s part, we think of her as a kind and intelligent girl/ woman (several years go by as she narrates) who is completely devoted to her beau/husband Nathanael; in Cornelia’s, Caty is a cruel, harsh woman who carries on with more than one man at a time. In Caty’s narrative, she disagrees with her aunt’s belief that a woman has a right to flirt; in Cornelia’s, Caty flirts with and kisses all kinds of men without the least shame or remorse. There isn’t much explanation for this change except perhaps the uncertainty of the Revolution; at one point, Anthony Wayne, one of Caty’s lovers, explains to Cornelia that during the Revolution there was no telling when your life might end, so inhibitions were cast aside. The characters aren’t very well-developed and are thrown around without much caution; historical figures like Eli Whitney and George and Martha Washington seem to be thrown in randomly. History is woven throughout the novel, but it’s done in a might-as-well-fill-up-some-space way. The Family Greene was disappointing compared with the rest of Ann Rinaldi’s books (A Break with Charity, for instance), and was quite frankly a waste of time. When it goes on sale later this year, I don’t recommend you buy it. It’s too small to be used as a weapon and probably wouldn’t burn too well.

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