Sweat equity can serve many purposes, the least of which is scrubbing, sanding and building. For Declan Fitzgerald, his rehabbing of Manet Hall is perfect therapy while the Harvard-educated lawyer moves on not only from the law, but also from his ex-fiancee and his neatly crafted, upper-crust, insular Boston world. What Declan finds as he digs into the Hall, however, is a store of memories, histories and ghosts – both real and imagined – that knock the otherwise confident bachelor off-kilter.
Plot Overview: Ghosts, History and Romance
New Orleans, with its dripping trees, hints of mysticisms and Cajun culture, would not, at first glance, be the ideal settling spot for a blue blood Boston boy. Declan, however, finds himself at home, especially in his dream house, but his life is far from peaceful. He rips up board after board in the decaying, if gothically beautiful mansion, but the detritus, seen and unseen, of former owners piles up around him. Declan begins to hear a baby’s cry echoing throughout the crumbling rooms, and he hears voices, one of which he deduces to be the baby’s mother, Abigail.
Abigail Manet, a woman whose tragic fate stained the walls of Manet Hall, lived and died in the early twentieth century. Her spirit, however, stayed behind, and Declan is hopelessly linked with her; the grief and pain he experiences is overwhelming. His only escape? A budding relationship with Cajun bar owner Lena Simone.
Lena, however, has secrets and her own link to Manet Hall. As the couple’s relationship grows deeper, Declan struggles to find his balance and regain the sanity that, in his mind, is slowly seeping away. It’s only when the two both discover the truth of Abigail’s and lay bare their feelings that they can fully restore Manet Hall and their romance.
Criticisms and Compliments
Like the In the Garden Trilogy, Midnight Bayou is a quintessential Southern ghost story with a little extra something; Stephen King advises in On Writing that a writer should take a typical plot (girl falls in love with boy, boy resists, girl pursues, boy resists, girl flees, boy realizes girl’s value) and turn it on its head, and Roberts does exactly that – plus she includes reincarnation and past scandal to take her plot to the next level. The result is one of her more creative stories, though it is, like all romance plots, predictable (happy endings for all!). Midnight Bayou is also equally as spooky as the In the Garden Trilogy (the Harper Bride, however, probably takes the cake with mental instability), but the flashbacks and secondary period plot line are similar and fascinating, almost more so than the present-day plot.
Lena is an atypical romantic heroine, much in the same vein as Phoebe MacNamara in High Noon. She is neither needy nor overemotional, and she is resistant to commitment, a surprise given women (both in and out of literature) are more often painted as wanting a committed, exclusive relationship followed by marriage, stat. The fact that Lena is not concerned with defining a relationship within certain boundaries – and Declan is – is a welcome role reversal.
While more intellectual, thought-provoking and heavy books and movies can be nice, sometimes a light-hearted, entertaining and fluffy read is just the solution to life’s many stressors. It would be easy to look down on romance novels, but Nora Roberts can spin a good story that can be a much-needed escape. Read Midnight Bayou (or watch the Lifetime movie) when the time is right.
- Roberts, Marie. Midnight Bayou. Jove, 2004 ISBN 9780515133974