Conflict smolders in 1828 Connecticut town

November 18, 1990|By JUDITH WYNN

The Wings of the Morning.

Thomas Tryon.


568 pages. $22.95. Now that the days are growing shorter, you may want to hunker down with a weighty historical romance that's long on plot and bursting with period description. If so, Thomas Tryon's episodic seventh novel, "The Wings of the Morning," offers cliffhangers galore plus everything you ever wanted to know about domestic life in 1828 Connecticut.

A film actor turned novelist at 45, Mr. Tryon debuted with his bloody 1971 thriller about evil twins, "The Other," set amid a lavish array of New Deal-era memorabilia. This time, he takes us to the mythical port town of Pequot's Landing. As the numerous incidents flow by -- seductions, mass murder, shipwrecks, the unveiling of secret kinships -- we learn not only what kinds of furniture the characters have in their homes and on their sailing vessels but also what kinds of linens and tableware are stored in their cupboards.

Pequot Landing has two leading families. The Talcotts are aristocratic landholders who are building a state-of-the-art mansioncomplete with hot and cold running water. The scruffy but equally ambitious Grimeses own a world-roving merchant ship, the last of their once-glorious fleet.

Of course, the Talcotts and the Grimeses are sworn foes -- or as Mr. Tryon's lush, Victorian narrative puts it: "Rancor fouled the air along the five-mile length of thoroughfare called Greenshadow Road that ran through the village between the two homesteads, where the winds of contention and discord hotly blew."

Georgie Ross -- the miller's daughter and everybody's confidant -- lives halfway between the Talcotts and the Grimeses. Georgie is plain, but she will become beautiful in her own way. She is chaste, prudish even -- unusual qualities in a romance

heroine. The local Indian wise woman predicts that Georgie will have three husbands and many children someday. In the meantime, Georgie nourishes a fierce, stubborn loyalty to her father, Tom Ross, the village crackpot, who hoards his money for ark that he claims God has ordered him to build for the second flood.

Georgie's two closest friends are ill-fated lovers in the Talcott/Grimes feud. Giddy, luxury-loving Aurora Talcott yearns to be swept away like the heroines of the lurid twopenny novelettes that she reads on the sly. Her hot-tempered admirer, Capt. Sinjin Grimes, styles himself after Lord Byron.

Mr. Tryon has a good time recapturing the way people talked, worked and amused themselves in John Quincy Adams' day. "The Wings of Morning" skillfully mixes Victorian storytelling with the homespun humor of America's rural/small-town past.

Ms. Wynn is a writer living in Somerville, Mass.

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