It’s never easy to give a bad review, and this one is particularly difficult because the book in question represents an author’s life dream. Susan Elliston apparently spent fifteen years researching and writing Lafitte’s Lady before having it published by a vanity press called FirstPublish.com. I’m sorry to say that this book is awful.
Tori, a twentieth-century woman, goes swimming in a lake near New Orleans and finds herself in the year 1810. Due to her California tan and curly perm, she is mistaken by all who see her as a runaway black slave. She is immediately taken captive by a vile plantation foreman bent on rape. She escapes to the Big House, where the plantation owner falls in love with her. She witnesses a murder and is kidnapped and sold to a high-rent whorehouse. There she is visited by pirate Jean Lafitte, a real historical figure who, like all the other men in this book, immediately falls into lust with Tori’s beauteous self. Tori eludes Lafitte, escapes from the whorehouse, and hides on a ship. Before she knows it, that ship, which belongs to Lafitte, has set sail. She is in Jean Lafitte’s hands once more!
That summary covers the first 130 pages of this huge novel, 600 pages packed with very small print. Events happen at a breakneck pace, but Lafitte’s Lady is not a fast read. The characters literally spend pages and pages in lengthy, redundant internal musings, sometimes interrupted by extended metaphors: “A different storm was brewing on the horizon, a storm whose wind was emotions, its rain was of tears and calm would only come when love conquered all.” Before it’s over, Tori will have undergone almost every tribulation any heroine has ever endured.
I doubt that in the antebellum South a white woman with a tan would have been mistaken for a black woman or a mulatto. Wealthy white women did carefully maintain their milky complexions, but there were thousands of white women who could not afford to own slaves, and they worked their fields themselves. They couldn’t avoid a certain brownness, and while they were regarded as trash, they were not constantly being seized and forced into slavery. I was amazed by the way that Tori goes from a hunted slave to the toast of New Orleans society as soon as her tan fades.
A far bigger problem is that Elliston is unskilled in the technical aspects of writing, and FirstPublish.com obviously doesn’t employ copyeditors. Every single page of this book is riddled with errors: misplaced and missing commas, misplaced and missing quotation marks, typos and misspellings, possessives and contractions with misplaced or missing apostrophes, oddly structured, difficult-to-read sentences, and random capitalizations. Here’s a small sample:
Sure Edward had said something about her being only for his use, but she had been too angry at that point to listen closely. Anyway, how could she believe him, the lying son of a bitch? Only time would tell if she was going to have to … She shook her head violently no! One thing was certain she would not be the most willing of whores. No. Sir! They were going to be in for a surprise if they thought she was going to be a willing part of all this!
I realize this single paragraph doesn’t sound too bad (even though I counted several grammatical errors), but imagine 600 pages of that.
Jean Lafitte talks like Pepe Le Pew, and keeps adding “n’est pas?” to the end of his sentences – which is wrong. Anyone who has taken high-school French will be constantly irritated by him. I couldn’t help but giggle when a lawyer declares that his safe has been riffled, but I was less amused by the black characters, who talk like this: “I’s be Mamsy and I’s kin help yo now.” Mamsy?
Possibly extensive copyediting could turn this novel into a fun read. The plot is unusual, and Elliston ties up all the plot threads neatly. But every page would have to be red-penciled and edited, and I would recommend that about 200 pages be cut out entirely. As it stands, Lafitte’s Lady is simply unreadable.