Burning Marguerite

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In her short story collection Here (1994), Elizabeth Inness-Brown looked at relationships that could not survive change. In Burning Marguerite, her first novel, again she shows how vulnerable even the seemingly strongest ties can be. However, though Inness-Brown is clearly an uncompromising realist, in Burning Marguerite she demonstrates that her vision of reality includes the possibility of redemptive love.

The story begins on a frigid morning on a New England island, when James Jack Wright, a man in his thirties, finds Marguerite Deo, his ninety-four-year-old adoptive mother, lying dead in the woods. Oddly, she is dressed only in her nightclothes. While James Jack ponders what to do, Inness-Brown shifts to a first-person point of view so that Marguerite can relate the story of her life.

After Marguerite became pregnant by a Native American farmhand, her mother had the child aborted and Marguerite sterilized; her father killed her lover; and in order that she would not have to bear witness in the case, Marguerite fled to New Orleans. There an unhappy marriage ending in divorce was followed by a happier relationship with a businesswoman, which lasted until she died in a fire.

When Marguerite returned to the island to claim a substantial inheritance, she intended to live in seclusion. However, as a favor to his young mother, she agreed to take care of James Jack for a few hours a week. Later, after his parents were killed in an accident, Marguerite adopted him, and they lived together happily until Marguerite realized that James Jack would never marry as long as she was alive.

Thus it is her selfless love for James Jack that sends Marguerite out to die, and it is his love for her that impels James Jack to risk arrest so that she can have the kind of funeral she desired. This story of mutual devotion, told in matchless prose, makes Burning Marguerite a poignant and memorable novel.