George and Magnolia Jacobs are a couple many of us aspire to be late in life: they have been happy, kept a good sense of humor, and still appreciate each other well into their 90s. They were childhood sweethearts back in the '20s, growing up in Levy, South Carolina --- a sleepy little town where the children all knew each other well. Droves of youths spent afternoons exploring the outdoors, fishing, swimming and laughing, appreciating all the trivial moments that define a happy childhood. By the age of 10, George was sensible, motivated and hopeful, a boy who was certain of the man he'd be; even then, he was hopelessly in love with Magnolia, his best friend who he dreamed of spending his life with.
Today, George and Maggie are still inseparable; they have had few regrets, having lived their shared dream, until George realizes that he was getting too old to care for both his farm and his wife. The terrible thing about aging, he discovered, is that it eventually separates you from your loved ones. Maggie's deteriorating condition made it clear early on that her body would survive her mind. Once Alzheimer's took control, George had no other choice but to turn them both over to skilled nurses and leave their home together.
These days, Maggie is incommunicado while George struggles and suffers daily over his wife's condition. He has realized the finality of their shared resting place but attempts to remain optimistic and appreciate each and every moment he's allowed to spend with her. Facility events at Harmony House are steady and predictable, which comes as both a relief and a slap in the face. George feels as if they are children again, their needs being handled by somebody else and the control over their lives long gone. He senses a sweet sadness in this after everything is lost --- their daughter grown up and busy, their home sold, dreams fulfilled, and togetherness the last thing to go.
Consigned to a waning life, George is convinced that Maggie will be unaware even when the moment comes that he dies. He's learned that he has cancer and his days are numbered. Then a package arrives for Maggie, and upon unwrapping it, George uncovers a striking portrait of a beautiful woman whose glowing face he instantly recognizes as his wife's. The full beauty of Maggie's youth has been preserved, her expression a private one usually reserved just for her husband. The mystery of who would sent the portrait (and equally of who Maggie would show this side of herself to) fills George with disturbing thoughts and jealous reactions. The answer lies deep in the past, and through reliving memories, a youthful story of hope, love and tragedy unfolds with a Southern setting where racism and segregation were, unfortunately, very much alive.
THE INHERITANCE OF BEAUTY doesn't fit the mold of a classic mystery or a novel focused on serious topics such as aging or racism. This is a story dedicated to presenting a spiritual point of view on life. The plot is loosely woven together, and both the tone and themes shift throughout the book's progression. Whereas the tone at the beginning is more serious and direct, by the end the same topics seem to be approached with a fairy tale tone. I felt the messages would have been more effectively delivered had topics been approached much more pragmatically. Nevertheless, THE INHERITANCE OF BEAUTY is a novel that should interest readers of sentimental Christian inspirationals.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on February 8, 2011