Never Pleasing to the World: A Man and His Slaves

Written by Peggy Patterson Garland
Review by Susan Higginbotham

Spanning the years 1731 to 1804, this debut novel tells the story of Robert Carter III, a Virginian who deserves to be better known. Born to privilege, Carter shocked his family and peers by beginning to free his slaves in his lifetime, ultimately resulting in the release of over 500 people from bondage.

Narrated by Carter and, occasionally, by several of his slaves, Garland’s novel is well written and well researched, with sympathetic characters, but I felt that the author missed some opportunities. For instance, Carter has a Mr. Murdstone–like stepfather, John Lewis, who neglects his education and later spreads unpleasant rumors about the adult Carter, but what appears to be destined as a major plotline simply fades away. Fanny Tasker, Carter’s future wife, is introduced to us as a lively young woman with advanced ideas, but following the couple’s marriage she seldom appears except to bring the latest Carter into the world and to lend a sympathetic ear when her husband needs a confidant. Carter’s sometimes fraught relationships with his many children also are underdeveloped. All in all, though, Garland accomplished her task of informing me about Carter and making me want to learn more.