Tuesday, July 13, 2010
We get cameos of Abraham Lincoln and Dorothea Dix and John Hay in this novel. We get Albany in winter and love at first blush and love at the end of too much knowing. We get Mary Sutter's determination to enter into the ranks of surgeon, indistinguishable in talent and mastery from any male peer, and the price that is exacted for entry.
Oliveira lists her Civil War, history, and medical resources at the start of this book; she is graceful with her abundance of knowing. The big, hard details of war, midwifery, and amputation are laid out, unflinchingly, before us; but so is the rising and falling of the sun, and the look and feel of Albany ahead of storm:
Now, in the distance, thunder rumbled. A day of contradiction: Mary's bonnet shaded her from a sun bright enough to strain her eyes. The alley percolated: a privy tilted a half block away; the neighbor's poorly kept chickens flapped in protest at the confusion. An ice wagon lurched into the narrow ruts and climbed the slow rise, its wintered-over ice blocks crusted with sawdust. The last of the last, before winter set in and ice would be everywhere. The verge of deprivation and plenty.
Beautifully done. And did I mention this book has twin sisters at its heart. An historical novel with twin sisters at its heart. Just my kind of thing, as it ultimately turns out.