Tracing her female ancestors through Texas history, Janice Woods Windle combines fact, fiction and family lore into a sweeping historical novel that begins at the Alamo and finishes in modern times. Filled with characters both real and imagined, True Women paints a fine portrait of Texas and pioneer spirit, but the narrative falls flat.
Told through the stories of three women, there is, however, plenty of adventure. Euphemia flees Santa Anna and faces down Comanche warriors; Georgia murders the heinous Yankee captain George Haller, who takes over her plantation after the Civil War; and Bettie follows Texas into the new century. But these women could use some of Scarlett O'Hara's spice. Mythically brave, strong and beautiful, they plant fields, fight Indians and disease, bury their children, birth calves and send their men off to fight one war after the other. Crucial issues like women's rights, slavery, the forced expulsion of the Indians are raised but never probed.
Windle's exhaustively researched novel, chronicling war and prosperity, succeeds both as legend and romance. If the larger themes fall by the wayside, one irony is clear: The more successful the women are in civilizing the frontier, the less they are permitted to participate in social and political change. (Putnam, $22.95)