Timely Tale

Black Rainbow by Barbara Michaels

Grade: B

In Black Rainbow a young governess is hired by a wealthy family. In this family are a young woman who runs the family’s mill while her brother is away, a man (the brother) who has higher aspirations than merely making a living from trade, and their small ward (the one who needs a governess). The governess becomes obsessed with the man. The man becomes obsessed with status. Their single-mindedness could cause trouble for the whole neighborhood.

Black Rainbow seems like it ought to be a romance novel, but really it’s about what happens when a man takes all the money and power for himself and leaves everyone else around him in untenable positions. Published in the early 1980s and set in the post-Industrial Revolution 1800s, it is nonetheless a timely story. We are still living in a mostly male-dominated age in which a tiny minority controls the majority of our country’s wealth and power. Such inequity is always recipe for disaster.

But, however much truth and justice may be in Black Rainbow, it’s not a great book. It starts slowly and drags on for quite a while. It switches viewpoints twice, leaving you uncertain as to whom the main character is. It has frustrating suggestions of the supernatural that don’t lead anywhere.

It’s worst fault, though, is that it isn’t what you want from a Barbara Michaels novel. In the end, the reader’s reaction is likely to be similar to the restaurant patron who asks for a well-done hamburger and is served sushi instead: “Um. That’s not what I ordered.”

P.S. I keep reading Barbara Michaels’s books because I hope to find another that will be as dear to me as the two I discovered when I was a teen. I realize that this is a long-shot, because my reading tastes have changed, and because I am a less forgiving reader. Still, many of her books have come close, so I have not given up hope yet.

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