Whorticulture, a Review

Most indie writers tend to publish too soon, omitting a much-needed final polish.  This, unfortunately,  has earned self-publishing the reputation of poor quality.  Too bad.  Marie-Anne Mancio’s novel, Whorticulture, is proof that finely crafted books by indie authors do exist.  I dare say, they abound.  It was my pleasure to give her book a top rating of five stars.


Women Overstepping their Boundaries

We approach what appear to be a series of short stories, but they have a connected theme. Each story is told in first person by a woman in antebellum America. Part of her message is conveyed in flowers, as women of the period are compared to flowers. For example, the white rosebud refers to girlhood, the olive blossom means peace, and the begonia says beware. Mancio includes a list of flowers and their meanings in an appendix.

The book begins with a letter from Sarah to Father who is officially declared dead. I was immediately drawn in. And then puzzled. Instead of a story, it is more an introduction. How does it relate to the stories–of which there are four, as told by Katherine, Abigail, Seraphine, and Emily? We end with Sarah, which is more a statement about forgiveness.

Katherine, having grown up on the prairie, is taken by her uncle to the city to be educated in the ways of a lady, so that she can find employment as a governess. And she should be married. Does Katherine have a say in how her life is mapped? No. Rules are like a too tight corset. You may bake but you mustn’t buy the ingredients. Never speak to vulgar people. Don’t be restless. Don’t cross your legs. On and on, the confining rules. Eventually, stranded in a city and without money, what does so refined a lady do? Can she spurn the vulgar people who would rescue her?

Abigail refuses marriage and travels to San Francisco where she opens a shop. Jerome, whom we meet briefly in Katherine’s story, pops up in more detail in Abigail’s. When fate seems to deal her a bad hand, Cyrus Hinckley comes to her rescue. Ambition drives Abigail never to give up her dream, even if she must compromise society’s demands of what a lady must be.

Seraphine is uneducated and a mulatto, so her speech is informal and perky. She actually seeks employment in a New York brothel, to gain the money she needs for her independence. And who should rescue her? Cyrus Hinckley. What Seraphine does next adds a surprising twist.

Emily is a pampered Boston teen who meets and marries Seraphine’s father, a New Orleans plantation owner. Life on the plantation proves a nightmare for Emily, and she feels like a slave. She manages to escape. Or does she?

None of these women meet, for their world is restricted by the double standard of the day. An anonymous man in the novel says, “All women are whores.” Perhaps if not in action, at least in their discontent with their lot and in their longing for freedom, they become secret whores. They may run into marriage or out of it or into unwed relationships in their quest for fulfillment.

Other than some odd saidisms (a smile or a frown talking), the book is beautifully written, quite poetic with memorable descriptions. For example, instead of Katherine saying she is awkward, she says, “my body does not seem to belong to me.” Another narrator speaks of dreams without edges. Rich description paints people and the environment before our mind’s eye. Rather than building the story through scenes, however, each protagonist tells us her story in first person and present tense, as if she’s sitting with us. As a result we are closer to these women, viewing unexpected details of their times.

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