This book is so weird. It feels like it goes on for ages and ages and ages and never actually manages to go anywhere interesting? Thankfully, it’s the last one in this trash fire of a series, so buckle up because this is a bad one.
Tempestuous: Opal’s Story, Jude Watson, 1996.
This is the Very Special Episode of this series, because it’s about a Black Woman, and while it makes a good effort at actually talking about race relations, it mostly falls flat because the writing isn’t all that good and the characters are hilariously flat and also Opal kind of sucks. She is the classic example of “Maybe the grass is greener on the other side? No it isn’t! It sucks over there! Maybe my first boyfriend will take me back!??!”
Also, let’s talk about the cover art. Opal is a seamstress, so she should be wearing a beautiful hand-sewn creation she made for herself, but I swear to God this outfit looks way more like buckskin and a skirt over trousers. I get that it’s a trick of shadow, but like…that’s the best outfit you could give her? It’s not even a colour. It’s non-colour with an orange stripe. Opal, you can do better than this.
Now, if you don’t feel like taking a trip down memory lane and rereading all the other recaps of this terrible series, Opal is the former slave of Savannah, the girl who ran away from a marriage she didn’t want. Opal followed along and Savannah freed her, and now Savannah is married to a super super super rich dude and Opal owns her own dress shop and sells to a bunch of the other brides. She’s engaged to a guy named Willie Joe, who is the only other black person in the whole town, so it’s kind of by default, but he’s a nice guy anyway. Unfortunately Opal keeps putting it off and putting it off and whines to herself that Willie isn’t fun or adventurous or spontaneous. “He always knew when to leave her alone, and that irritated her even more.” Uh, why? Because he knows you really well and gives you your space, Opal? Some people aren’t adventurous and spontaneous! Get over it!
Willie takes Opal to Sacramento, since he drives a delivery wagon and she needs to do some shopping there. She runs into a spectacularly handsome man on the way to visit her sister, Ruby, who is fairly light-skinned and is passing herself off as a mysterious exotic lady from the West Indies. But Ruby is distracted and upset today because she’s gotten involved in some shady dealings with a businessman and stole a packet of diamonds so he couldn’t cheat her, and now she’s afraid the businessman is going to take revenge on her. So she gives the teeny bag of diamonds to Opal to hide, even though Opal throws a huge tantrum about it, and Opal gives in and then Ruby lets slip that she has a partner in this whole endeavour, and it just happens to be that super handsome young man Opal saw—Gabriel Fortune.
Gabriel is a runaway, too, but when Willie Joe comes to pick Opal up he automatically thinks that Gabriel is a bit of a cad. Instead of thinking that maybe he has a reason to think that, Opal starts complaining in her head about how Willie wears old clothes and doesn’t flatter her and he isn’t as handsome as Gabriel. Then she complains that he’s trying to help her come up with places to hide this BAG OF DIAMONDS, and she snots that she can do it herself. Then she stands there for a while like an idiot wondering what to do. Her brilliant solution is to sew the diamonds into a hat. For real. She makes an extravagant, fancy hat thinking that people will assume they’re just crystals, because what kind of idiot would sew thousands of dollars of diamonds into a hat and then display it in plain sight?
Then the next day Gabriel turns up in Last Chance, her tiny town, and takes Opal on a picnic. She says she can’t possibly go at first, but gets her sort-of assistant to watch the place for the day because the idea of a spontaneous fun picnic is too good to resist. She leaves the shop with Adele and she and Gabriel fuck off, and Gabriel spends the whole time telling Opal how beautiful and perfect she is and how she deserves someone better than staid old Willie. Then, in Willie’s defense, Opal tells Gabriel about how Willie was the most trusted slave on his plantation, and made a promise to his owner who had always treated him well and fairly, and when the opportunity came to run away, he didn’t, because he had given his word and believed that nothing was more important than his word. Gabriel gets all salty about this, and Opal is conflicted, and then she stomps off home and Adele is like “Great news! I sold that fancy hat for a great price!” and it turns out she sold it to Savannah’s mother-in-law.
Mrs. Bullock refuses to give the hat back, so Opal tells Gabriel, who has a good laugh, and Willie turns up and is like “Why not just do the obvious thing and ask Savannah to help?” And Opal’s like “No! She owned me, I’m not going to owe her anything,” and Willie keeps coming up with these simple, clear plans and Opal’s like “No!!!! That’s too easy!” Opal, there are no difficulty points in life, this is not a video game.
So Gabriel comes up with this super complicated plan where he poses as a chef, but things get derailed when Cole Bruneau, Savannah’s horrible younger brother, shows up. Regina and Winston, Savannah and Cole’s parents, are there as well, and Opal is horrified at how uncomfortable everything just became. Savannah tries to apologize for her abominable family, and spills that her father wants her to take in Cole, who is uncontrollable and generally awful, and Savannah’s like “Eh, what can you do, family eh?” and Opal is like, you know that if he stays people will find out that Ruby is in Sacramento, right?
Then the Bruneaus head to San Francisco, and Mrs. Bruneau is wearing that god-damned hat full of diamonds that she got as a gift, and suddenly Opal has to go there to get it back, and Gabriel is “Right! Meet me in 15 minutes!” and Willie is like….you know that I can see that you’re in love with him, right? I’m not an idiot. And Opal’s like “This is all your fault because you’re so proper and didn’t dance with me in a meadow!”
Opal, you bitch, that’s so manipulative and mean. Anyway, Willie is like “Well, I’ll always love you, but I can’t be your friend anymore and we’re not engaged. See ya and would not want to be ya.” But he drives her and Gabriel to San Francisco anyhow, and then Ruby is so amazed by how much fun San Francisco is that she forgets all about Willie and how awkward he would be. She goes to a dance hall with Gabriel, dances the whole night with him, and then notices Willie has been there watching them. God, this is awkward.
Gabriel’s new plan to get this damn hat back is to pretend to be Frederick Douglass. Please, raise your hands if you see this rocketing down a terrible path. Don’t worry, you’ll all be right. This is a horrible plan and to make it worse, the “plan” is that Opal will pose as MRS. Douglass at this fancy-pants hotel that the Bruneaus are staying at, where there are no blacks allowed. The whole plan: they’ll swoop in, Gabriel-as-Frederick-Douglass will make a big fuss, and Opal will quietly slip behind the counter and grab the key to the Bruneau room. Unexplained: how they’ll know which room the Bruneaus have, how no one will notice Opal behind the counter, why they’ll have a spare key just hanging there. Willie says “Let us return to the world of the sane” (not a joke, he really does say that) and proposes they just bribe a porter for spare uniforms and pose as porters. That is a much better plan.
Unsurprisingly, everything goes sideways when Cole walks into the lobby just as they’re trying to enact Gabriel’s idiotic plan, and they flee, and Willie’s like “Can we just do my thing now?” Gabriel is like “No! I have a better plan! Let’s just use Cole!” and Opal is like…no, that’s terrible, please stop forcing me to interact with my asshole former owners and their asshole son, but Gabriel’s like “No, please, let’s do it!” So Opal goes to his room, says she needs the hat back while Cole insults her a little bit, and then he says he’ll get her the hat if she tells him where Ruby is, and then he tries to assault her and Willie rescues her. And Willie already got the hat. By just fucking bribing a maid. This could have been so easy.
They give the hat to Gabriel and drop him on Ruby’s doorstep, and head back to Last Chance, and the next day who’s on her doorstep but Ruby? You know why? BECAUSE GABRIEL JUST TOOK THE HAT AND RAN! Because he’s a con man! Of course he is! He left Opal one single diamond! And Opal is like “But he seemed so nice! How could this have happened!?” and Ruby is like “Well, I don’t know, he just knocked on my door one day and said I seemed smart!” Clearly bad judgement with regards to men runs in the family. Now Ruby’s out all that money, and Opal has nothing but a single diamond, and then Cole turns up at the door just to fuck stuff up even more.
The maid Willie bribed confesses and fingers Willie Joe as the culprit, and Cole offers to save Willie in return for “One night alone with [Ruby],” and Opal is all horrified and Ruby is like “Okay, fine.” Because Cole had been raping Ruby for years, and she figures if he’s going to do it again, something good out to come out of it. Opal goes to Savannah for help, and Savannah makes it mostly about her sad, sad feelings, and says he’s probably just playing pranks, and Opal is like “that’s fucking useless, you’re useless,” and goes home. Ruby’s new plan is to kill Cole. She’ll shoot him, then throw him down the ravine and bury him somewhere, and then flee to Canada.
Opal makes the connection along the way that her real father is Mr. Bruneau—making her and Ruby and Savannah and Cole all half-siblings. (You know what I mean.) So Cole has been raping his half sister all this time. Excellent. And Savannah’s slave was her own sister. Beautiful. Cole comes that night, and Opal says she’s going to spill the news that they’re siblings, which will wreck the whole Bruneau family, and Cole completely flips out and starts losing his shit and beating up both sisters. He tears up Opal’s whole workroom, and then who turns up in the doorway but Savannah? She beats Cole half to death with a riding crop (I couldn’t make this shit up), after finally figuring out that Cole was a monster and her father was a monster and she realized that Opal and Ruby were her half sisters. Cole slinks away, and Savannah promises that she’s going to treat Opal and Ruby as her sisters.
Well, this doesn’t go over well in Last Chance, and instead just makes Savannah and her husband pariahs, despite all their money. And then who turns up on Opal’s doorstep except Willie Joe? He says he’s sorry things turned out so badly with Willie, and suddenly Opal realizes she loved Willie all along, and was just too dumb to realize it. (I agree.) And Opal’s like “No! I really do love you! Please marry me!” and Willie is like “No, I can’t, there’s going to be a war, and I can’t marry you and then go to fight in a war” and Opal’s like “….but I’d be waiting for you whether or not we’re married, right?” and then they dance on the porch.
Rating: C-/D+. Ugh. Well, none of these books are good, but this one takes the cake for dumbness. There is a strain of interesting discussion on race relations, like how Opal notes that everything is about Savannah’s feelings about slavery instead of just fixing the problem, or how Willie is so preoccupied with looking dignified because he’s the only black guy in Last Chance and feels like he has a reputation to keep up. Unfortunately, all of this is completely overshadowed by Opal’s completely idiotic crush on Gabriel and her willingness to go along with all of his idiotic schemes. And I really, really, really loathe the whole “I got bored of my fiancé, so I went out to go date some other guy and it turned out I loved my fiancé all along! And he took me back! So things are great now!” which is a terrible, terrible, terrible message. Willie Joe is the real hero here and he deserves a better woman who won’t run off to find off if the grass is greener. And why is this book called “Tempestuous?” What’s tempestuous about Opal? Except possibly having conflicting emotions about who she loves more? You know, she can have interests other than men! Ugh. This is awful.