Sarah Creech’s debut has a lot going for it and I have no hesitation recommending it—for the right reader.
Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Season of the Dragonflies has an appealing misty, magical quality to it. Four generations of Lenore women have built their fortune on a secretive perfume that brings success to all who wear it. The Lenore perfume is behind the most powerful women in politics, business, and the arts. Now, a Hollywood starlet is threatening to expose the Lenore secret, and the mysterious flower that gives the perfume its power is dying. Willow, the family matriarch, and her two daughters, Mya—the one who has dedicated her life to the family business—and Lucia—the one whose sudden return to the mountains is heralded by a swarm of blue dragonflies—have to assuage their rogue client and figure out what’s killing the flowers to save their family legacy, while each deals with her own private troubles.
Creech’s prose flows easily and I quickly got caught up in the story. The characters were adequately developed, though I didn’t feel any particular emotional attachment to any of them. I enjoyed the setting and the complexity of the relationships between the sisters and their mother. The pacing was good and the plot was interesting.
There was, however, an awkward, discomfiting mix of feminist ideals alongside patriarchal standards that I found hard to ignore. Let me be clear: this is an entertaining novel of love, magic, and female relationships, and I don’t think Creech’s primary intention was to discuss feminism or the capital-P Patriarchy. But it’s hard not to notice that in the world Creech creates, a large percentage of the most successful women of the last 100 years apparently gained success from a magic perfume. (All of the Lenore clients are women, so we can only assume that men have succeeded entirely on their natural talents and grit.) Even Willow asks, “What would happen if [she] no longer had a product to sell these women? Would they just drop off and never fully actualize their talents?”
In fact, there are undeniable references to feminist ideals throughout. “Choices, that’s what Mya valued.” In reference to physical beauty and a man’s admiration of it: “These were the types of distraction that had always made women less powerful than they should be.” Even Serena, the Lenore woman who first discovered the powerful flower in the 19th century, defied her father’s decree for an arranged marriage, instead running off to South America with her lover and declaring that “no one would force her daughter to wear a corset.”
What, then, are we to make of all these feminist references in a story that portrays three strong, independent women as—though the word is never used—witches, which is pretty much the oldest, worst moniker for “independent woman”? Let’s not even discuss the implications of the ending, which is a minefield of undergraduate women’s studies papers just waiting to explode in self-righteous outrage.
But what if you’re not a former English major and your reading isn’t hampered by years of critical analysis and literary theory? Then it’s a nice novel. Not life-altering, but entertaining enough that I read it in a week and I wanted to know what happened. If you’re looking for escapism and a touch of the fantastical in these dog days of summer, this is a great choice. Creech has talent and I would definitely read more from her. I’d love to see her tackle something more serious in the future and I think she has the chops to deliver on some of the meatier ideas she poses, but even if she sticks to lighter fare, I’ll happily visit the next misty, magical world she creates.
Recommended for: fans of Alice Hoffman, Adriana Trigiani, Sarah Addison Allen, and The Witches of Eastwick.
Not recommended for: literary snobs or gender studies majors.
Season of the Dragonflies. Written by Sarah Creech. Read by Kate Turnbull. Audio published by HarperCollins Publishers. Available 8/12/2014.