Thursday, August 2, 2012

On MASTER's Plot


My friend Priscilla Ronzitti sent me the following note about Master of Westfall Plantation:

Got the book and read it. I like it a lot though the ending has me confused as so many things were left unresolved. My assumption is there will be another sequel?? Your writing is great and I have trouble putting the book down. It is a treat to read something that has a friend's name on the cover as author!

I had a devil of a time figuring out a “good” end for Master. I hope those people who read Master before Kedzie will find no loose ends. However, if you’ve read Kedzie, you know that Tilmon is in good spirits at the conclusion of Master because he is unaware of what is about to happen.

The plot line of Master of Westfall explores what Tilmon considers important. He worries about paying his bills and maintaining a life style commensurate with his social standing. He likes to gamble, drink, buy horses, and dabble in society as well as politics. He runs his plantation well enough, but his appetites surpass his income. Therein is one of his challenges.

His mother bails him out time and again. When she takes a fancy to the artist, Tilmon sees a threat to not only her financial support but his inheritance as well, should she marry.

The butler dies suddenly and from an undetermined cause, and this throws Tilmon a curve. For one of the few times in his life, he wavers about what has happened and what to do.

He is concerned about his wife when she fails to live up to his social expectations. He is convinced he loves her, though he is incapable of accepting her abolitionist patron.

In the end, Tilmon is happy because: 1) He makes enough money selling the cook to replenish his bank account; 2) His mother provides a legal document assuring him of his inheritance if she should marry; 3) He eradicates doubts about whether Billy’s death was accidental or deliberate by selling the cook; 4) He believes his wife has agreed to end her relationship with her patron. To add to that, his wife is pregnant with another child that he wants.

Perhaps there are frayed ends — but on completing Master I was a frayed writer. Is Tilmon’s unsettled relationship with his wife a frayed end? Georgiana, who is a point of view character, tells us that she hasn’t forsaken her patron. To the contrary, she has become more loyal to him than to her husband. Does this need to be resolved? I’m not sure I want to get into that conflict. Georgiana will lose, at least financially and socially, given the time in which she lives.

I think Priscilla’s confusion relates to the fact that she’s read Kedzie and knows what Tilmon doesn’t know at the end of Master. As Tilmon is smoking his cigar on the piazza and chatting with his wife, he doesn’t know that his slave girl/concubine is escaping to the mainland. That night, Rio and Joe kill most of his cattle, something he will only find out the next day.

Tilmon doesn’t confront many of the issues in this story, simply because he is human, a man, and a product of the antebellum culture. He will never know that his wife plots against him nor that Kedzie hates him. He thinks his slaves have respect if not consideration for him. He is unaware that Rio is a dangerous enemy. And even if you told him these things, he wouldn’t understand. He thinks he treats people fairly. He considers himself a good person.

I hope to eventually write a more conclusive ending for Tilmon, Georgiana, and Rio. Perhaps I’m reluctant to take on the task because the stakes are high and somebody’s going to lose, in a big way.

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