Rod Davis, Corina's Way (NewSouth Books, 2003)

Reading Corina's Way took me back to the summer, over thirty years ago, when my grandmother and I both read Gone With the Wind. Both books are set in the deep South, of course. Both have strong-willed heroines who refuse to buckle under adversity. Both have unsatisfactory endings.

My grandmother's paperback copy of Gone With the Wind was shoddily printed. Pages were mixed up. One whole section was repeated, and an equal-sized section was missing. When she go to the classic cliffhanger ending, she figured the rest of the book was missing, and she was quite angry. She figured she'd been cheated, and when I read it I agreed with her.

Imagine my surprise when I got my own copy a few years later, after her death, and found out that this was all there was. Yes, I got to read the missing bits from the middle, but the same unsatisfying ending was still there.

Corina's Way hit me in the same fashion. While several storylines reach at least partial resolutions, there are too many unanswered questions. Seemingly at the moment that one of the central enigmas is going to be resolved, there are four little words: "End of text file."

As I did that long-ago summer, I feel cheated. As I did that long-ago summer, I hope it's because of a mix-up with my copy (an uncorrected proof). I'm horribly afraid, though, that if I ever see the final edition it will end the same way.

Intellectually, I understand cliffhangers as a literary device. Emotionally, as a reader, I detest them.

That being said, up till that last page Corina's Way is a very entertaining book. The characters as a group should by all rational expectations be losers, but they refuse to be defeated. It isn't that they're too stupid to see that they've lost, more that they're too stubborn. (Scarlett O'Hara rides again.)

Davis has a knack for making all his characters sympathetic. Even his villains aren't just the embodiments of evil. They may be trying to achieve them the wrong way, but their ends are not in themselves necessarily wrong. (Senator Joe Dell Prince, pride of the KKK, may be an exception.)

Corina's Way mixes spirituality, sex (there are a few sloppy-wet bits), commerce, politics, love, vengeance, music and redemption in a palo pot fit for any of the santos.

Rod Davis, the author of Corina's Way, is neither Rod Davis of The Quarrymen nor Rod Davis the international yachtsman nor Rod Davis the author of the trilogy River of Fear. He's a magazine editor and professor of writing, as well as a scholar of voudou (I use his spelling) and santos, and he uses his knowledge to weave a plausible-sounding backdrop for what is essentially a story of human conflict taken to a super-human level. Without being a scholar of voudou myself I can't evaluate the accuracy of this aspect of the book, but it certainly hangs together, and it contains the most rational explanation I've ever seen for how someone can believe deeply in Christ and at the same in other spiritual forces.

Why did I enjoy Corina's Way and not Lucius Shepard's Louisiana Breakdown, despite the former's unsatisfactory ending? After all, they deal with many of the same subjects. Well, the sex in Louisiana Breakdown is exploitative and degrading, the spirits are all evil and the main characters are losers, pathetic without being very sympathetic. The sex in Corina's Way is more incidental than anything else, the spirits' power can be evil or good, and the characters, as I said earlier, are too stubborn to be losers. All in all, Corina's Way is a much more satisfying read.

[Faith J. Cormier]

Rod Davis doesn't seem to have a Web presence, but there is a long article about him here, which includes biographical information and a detailed review of his earlier book, American Voudou: Journey into a Hidden World.