Desert Isle Keeper
Let me state that it is difficult to summarize Black Silk without doing it an injustice, because this book, this story, these characters and their interpersonal relations are so unusual, so remarkable, and so complex that the whole is near nigh irreducible. I mean, is it possible to admire the Mona Lisa a square inch at a time? Reading Black Silk is like going to a five-star restaurant for the first time. You fidget a little in your chair, admire the ambience and the elegant waiters doing their nightly ballet. The kitchen is taking its time. A little plate of nibbles arrives, compliment of the chef. You munch, you ooh and aah. It’s fabulous. But it’s only a little plate. You wonder a little anxiously whether the rest of what is to come can measure up. And then the appetizers arrive – and then the first course. You half-swoon. Then comes the entree and you can hardly comprehend how you came to be in such heaven. Then the dessert which ends your experience with a bang (well, almost literally in this case, if I may be pardoned for a little risqué pun). You cannot believe the evening is over since you wanted it to go on and on and on.
Pardon the gustatory analogy, which in this case is apt. Judy Cuevas is a master of sensual description. Her writing has flavor, succulence and substance. It has that indescribable something that can only be called literary “fat”, a quality that makes her particular confection of words deliciously tangible.
But her talent goes far beyond mere linguistic sumptuousness. Ms. Cuevas creates memorable characters. Graham Wessit, the hero of Black Silk, could probably be labeled a bad boy, a Victorian bad boy if you will. But unlike so many other romance novel bad boys who seem to copulate their way from one end of the country to the other and in doing so, generate nothing but good-willed envy from all men and trembling desire in all women, Graham has troubles. He is the defendant in a false paternity suit. His current mistress is thinking of divorcing her husband to marry him – a big scandalous deal in 1858. And on top of it, there is a popular newspaper serial that has its root material in the deeds, mistakes, and peccadilloes of his life, all exaggerated and ridiculed for the entertainment of the masses. Lest we forget, those were far more puritanical times. Even men paid for their transgressions.
Submit Channing-Downes is a virtuous widow, still in mourning, clothed in black – hence the title – for almost the entirety of the book. Her late, much older husband Henry had been Graham’s cousin and one-time guardian. Submit loved and still loves Henry. Graham despised and still despises Henry. From their vastly different experiences with Henry and their intertwined present predicament, (thanks to a nasty posthumous bequest from Henry to Graham) arises what surely must be the most intriguing triangle of human relations in romancedom.
Graham is indolent and indulgent, but as the story unfolds, we see his honesty, kindness, and sincerity. He is also vital, exciting, and young at heart. Submit is equally complex. She is intelligent, thoughtful, and serious. And it is Ms. Cuevas’ great accomplishment that this woman of true gravitas is also endowed with a subtle yet potent carnal allure. The two of them are a wonderful match because she needs his energy and vigor and he needs to be anchored by her rationality and cool-headedness.
The late Henry, of course, was one of a kind. Read and marvel. This book is perhaps not to everyone’s taste. I’ll admit, it took me a while to get hooked. Black Silk is not exactly a comfort read, and does not offer instant gratification, meaning, no kisses until half-way through, and no hero/heroine love scene until the last fifty pages or so. But those readers who stick with it will be richly, splendidly rewarded. And that is a promise.