Review: The Magnolia that Bloomed Unseen
Book: The Magnolia that Bloomed Unseen
Author: Ray Smith
Curiosity Points: 9/10
Description: Molly Valle (Vi-yay not Vail) is a forty-eight-year old high school teacher whose life has lost its luster. She believes that for her, the adventure is over. Not that there had been much adventure in the first place. She had gone through the motions--graduated, made a career in teaching, married, got divorced... you know, nothing out of the ordinary. Having reached middle-age, she is viewed by society as a product nearing its expiry (to put in crudely). But all that changes when someone sees in her what no one else can. This someone is John Pressman, a civil rights activist. They meet at a diner called Porky Pie and in the middle of utter chaos, magic happens.
Are you knitting your brows thinking magic doesn't exist? Well, this book is going to teach you that it does. Not in a sorcerer's spell or a witch's curse but in the humdrum realities of everyday. What you need is someone to show you that. John becomes, for Molly, the secret passage that leads her to a magical paradise--a world that is our very own and yet so different. She begins to appreciate herself and her life in a way she'd never done before. And she falls in love... hopelessly, madly, desperately in love with the architect of her new dreams.
The story begins from the point-of-view of RC who had once interviewed Molly for his class project and has now been summoned by her to write her story. He is a middle-aged man who is struggling with his circumstances. Molly's story, which is set in 1960s Missouri, changes his perspective as I'm sure it will change yours. The book doesn't merely narrate a heartwarming love story, it paints a very realistic picture of that volatile era--its prejudices and racist practices. To experience magic in troubled times, you'll have to read this book.
My Impression: I don't even know how to begin writing down my thoughts on this book. I feel like I've got so much to say. To be honest, it has overwhelmed me, left me speechless. I knew Magnolia wouldn't be your average love story because the title itself hints at obscurity. But even though I had high expectations from the book, I didn't think it would affect me like it did. This is, without an iota of a doubt, my favorite love story in the fictional universe. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is the best book I've read in the last couple of years. Had it been published under traditional banners, I'm certain it would find great appreciation from the reading public. It isn't an extraordinary romantic story, it shows us that even the ordinary can be most enchanting. I am still enchanted by the characters, their spectacularly humble experiences and the satisfaction of knowing that I can be adventurous in my little ways. If I keep at it, I will end up writing an essay on my impression of Magnolia. So, let's break here and explore some details.
Story (10/10): The story is beautiful. You as a reader will find yourself feeling the same emotions as RC, the character who is listening to Molly narrate the events of her life in the year 1961. Like him, you'll imagine and anticipate tragedy all the while hoping against hope that John and Molly found their happily-ever-after. The subplot involving the civil rights movement, misogyny and social prejudices intertwine deftly with the main plot. I'm not going to spoil it but towards the end when the narrative switches to the present day, we are perhaps introduced to a new, blossoming love story, or at least, a new adventure.
Characters (10/10): Molly and John are portrayed from each other's perspective. They are characters I'm going to remember for a very long time. Molly struck me as a feisty school teacher but the author's success lies in telling us how she came to be so feisty and bubbling with life. The development of her character, her emotional turmoil, the melting of her heart--everything flashes right in front of our eyes. John, ever so attractive, is not completely devoid of vulnerabilities. The changes in his life, his goals and ambitions and his love for the ordinary make up the pieces that constitute the imperfectly perfect man that is John Pressman. RC is quite interesting too. In a way, he is quite like the forty-eight-year old Molly, maybe a little more impatient. Although he remains absent throughout a large chunk of the story, his presence later compensates for it. I must also mention the supporting characters, among whom, Bethanee is the most prominent. The saucy twenty-something African American activist is initially a sort of rival figure for Molly. But that changes as they gradually bridge the gap between their worlds. I admired her character a lot. The police chief's son, Cash, is another character who fights his own battles. The author has brought to life various types of characters here, asking the reader to explore each of their circumstances.
Narrative Technique (10/10): The style of narration is simple. Beginning with first person narration it switches to third person and then reverts to first. John and Molly's story alternates between points of view though told in third person. I think it's a clever way of helping the reader connect with three main characters--Molly, John and RC. The language is not too flowery but far from bland. I have highlighted so many lines here that it'll be difficult for me to find my favorite quotes now! i'll still give it a try.
Genre Success (10/10): You've only got to read my previous comments to know that I think Magnolia succeeds as a romance. Not only that, it has pushed the benchmark higher. I confess I don't read romance very often but this is absolutely different from my other reading experiences when it comes to love stories.
Curiosity Points Explained (9/10): Does the book talk about something new? Well, no. But it talks about something that is eternal, something for the ages, something that is going to stay with us. And it does so in a refreshingly beautiful way. I am finding myself at a loss for words here. The book kept me curious throughout and even beyond because I couldn't stop wondering what happened to RC.
Would I Recommend it?: Yes, yes, yes! A million times yes. Go read it. You'll find hope even in this covid infested world.
My Favorite Quotes From The Book:
Youth is wasted on the young.
Magic did still exist, even, maybe especially, in the most outwardly colorless of places. The kind of magic that would have made the non-existent Merlin green with envy. The magic of the minds and the soul and the lives of ordinary people. Real Magic.
To live life without experiencing one great love story was to not live at all.
She was the Magnolia that bloomed unseen. Except he had seen it.