Home » Book reviews » A Review: “Charleston” by Margaret Bradham Thornton

A Review: “Charleston” by Margaret Bradham Thornton

charleston coverWow. How do novels this bad get published by a professional publishing house? Oh, never mind, I forgot about James Patterson. As a Charleston resident, I try to read as many novels that take place in my home town as I can. This is one of the worst.

Charleston is another in the seemingly endless line of novels written by upper-class middle-aged white women with three names who claim Charleston as their heritage. The book’s major flaw is the pervasive air of pretention that oozes from each page. There are endless pages of name-dropping of old Charleston names, clothes, furniture and antiques, which have nothing to do with the story, except that you begin to realize everyone in this neighborhood is most likely kin to each other.

The book also never makes clear what time period in which it takes place. We can assume it is not in the 21st century, since none of the characters have cell phones or computers. But of course, since every character in the book is “old Charleston” and lives South of Broad Street, social pressure may not allow them to possess modern technology. I’m guessing it is set in the recent past (the 1990s, maybe.)  

The plot (and I am stretching here to attach that description to it) is that Eliza returns home to Charleston after being away for many years (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) and rekindles a relationship with a former boyfriend, Henry. Henry is publisher of the local paper and divides his time between three houses in the area (just to let you know he comes from “old money.”) There are also some bewildering sub-plots about paintings and slave pottery, which require Eliza to visit library archives and museums. We get to listen to her have discussions over tea about painting techniques (yawn.)

Oh, I almost forgot, Eliza’s love, Henry, has a son from a previous marriage which he has raised by himself (making him a sensitive modern man) after the wife abandoned them. Then, the ex-wife shows up! And she suddenly wants to be involved in the kid’s life … well, never mind. It’s awful. It was also about this time in the book that I got the sneaking suspicion that Henry and Eliza might actually be kin to each other.

The book comes to such a screeching stop (to call it a conclusion would be inaccurate), and with a plot twist so jarring, that one has to assume the author got tired of writing about these people and finished it as quickly as possible. I don’t blame her.

At least one third of the novel consists of Eliza strolling the streets of Charleston, name dropping people and houses, and historical tidbits. Problem is: the author gets so much of the factual and geographical details of the city wrong that it is beyond comical.

First of all you cannot turn onto Church Street from South Battery (it’s one way – in the other direction).

The author mentions two episodes of horse-drawn carriages driving down the street in the neighborhood South of Broad. Each time the author goes out of her way to point out the time of day (both well after 6:00 p.m.) Since the author is part of “old Charleston” she certainly must know that tours are not allowed on those streets after 6:00 p.m. If she wanted to reflect “real” Charleston, she would have written a scene where the locals call the police and try to have the tour guide arrested for giving illegal tours. In another scene she describes the carriage driver’s uniform and then says “the tour guide slapped the reins on the double team of draft horses.” Sorry, the carriage company she described, only uses single draft animals.  

In one embarrassing chapter, the author has Eliza walk down Church Street and point out houses and details. On the walk she mentions the George Everleigh House, where Francis Marion jumped from the second floor (wrong house; its five blocks over on Tradd Street). She then mentions the Nathaniel Russell House and spends several paragraphs describing the architecture (again, the author has conveniently moved the house three blocks from its actual location on Meeting Street).

Eliza later finds herself at the corner of Archdale and Chisholm Streets (doesn’t exist – Chisholm is 10 blocks away) and mentions the two churches on Archdale – St. Luke’s Lutheran and St. John’s Unitarian (I will pause as local Charlestonians finish laughing.) The two churches are actually St. John’s Lutheran and the Unitarian Church of Charleston.

Charleston is amateurish and worst of all, boring, the greatest sin a piece of fiction can suffer. This past year I have read dozens of self-published 99 cents Amazon books that are more professional and entertaining than Charleston

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