Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Book Review

The Wives of Henry Oades: a novel by Johanna Moran

During slow spells while working at the library, I'll casually thumb through a copy of Book Pages (check it out if you've never heard of it!) looking for new and intriguing reads. Some issues lack anything of interest to me. As you all know, I read new books, but you might not know that so far I've chosen not to read the Nora Roberts and James Pattersons of the book world. If dozens of people are lining up to read the newest novel of a ridiculously prolific author, well, you're more than likely not going to find me among the hordes. That's not to say I don't follow the mass reading crowd ever (for example, I love the Harry Potter series and a thoroughly enjoyed The Help), but typically, I like to pave my own reading path. I'm not always pleased with each book I pick up, but I'm also learning to put a book down if I'm not particularly enjoying it because I can definitely find another better book to spend my time reading.

The last issue of Book Pages included a brief review of The Wives of Henry Oades. And as the review left me wanting to read more and it was a debut novel (I enjoy seeing what new writers are coming out), I placed a hold on it and read it within five days. As I understand it, the book is based on a short historical law brief from nineteenth century California. This is the story of Henry Oades and his two wives.

The Oades moved from England to New Zealand for a job, Henry, Margaret and their two children (twins joined them the following year). After a time, they moved to a home a distance from town. One day while Henry was away, his wife and children were kidnapped by Mauri Indians. Devastated, Henry searches for his family despite many frustrating setbacks. After months without so much as a shred of hope they were still alive, he gave up his search and eventually moved to California. Several years later he married a young widow, Nancy. Less than a year after that, Margaret and the children showed up on Henry and Nancy's doorstep.

Told mostly through the eyes of Margaret (Meg) and Nancy, the story kept me turning the pages, mostly because I wanted to see how it was resolved. During that time period a divorce rendered any offspring illegitimate and therefore tarnished their future reputation, so neither wife was willing to give up her husband.

Because as the reader, I knew so much more of Margaret's life and history with Henry, I felt she deserved to have her husband back. But, by the time she returned to his life, he'd given his heart to Nancy (who held on to it quite fiercely) and seemed unable to even have a friendship with Margaret. My biggest complaint was Henry. I wanted him to be more vocal with Margaret about the situation instead of nearly ignoring her. The wives strove to build a semblance of family and were mostly successful despite the harassment of the town they lived in. Much of the story surrounds the legal battles the family goes through just to remain a family, one husband, two wives (though one definitely in name only), and four children. And that resolution I wanted, well, it never really came in the way I wanted. But, it was an interesting read and one I'd recommend if you want something a little different.


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