A common bat on the other side of the world elects to sink its rabid fangs, and one’s cozy existence is finished.
The Wives of Henry Oades – Johanna Moran
Every so often an author’s debut published work speaks volumes about their writing talent. The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran is one of these examples. Full of maturity, and literary talent, Moran’s novel is full-blooded and bountiful, with a beautiful story and characters that are authentic and tangible. Maybe this is the result of Moran basing the book on a true story, but I tend to think it’s because she’s a talented writer.
Set in the 1890s, The Wives of Henry Oades tells the story of the first bigamy case in the United States. Henry Oades, his wife Margaret, and their children move to New Zealand when Henry is offered a prestigious accounting job. One evening after work Henry returns to their rural home to find it nothing but smoldering ashes with the skeleton of a woman inside. Destitute and shattered, Henry searches for his family for years before leaving New Zealand under the belief that the body in his house was in wife, and that his children are dead, having been kidnapped by the native Maori.
Six years later, Henry is living in Berkeley, California, a dairy farmer who has re-married a young pregnant widower, Nancy. When Nancy opens the door one day and finds Margaret and her children on the porch the lives of the Oades’ wives and Henry are forever changed. Subject to persecution and abuse, Henry refuses to leave either wife or abandon any of his children.
Heartbreaking at times, we travel with the Oades family when they embark for New Zealand in the hopes of prosperity. We suffer with Henry while he searches helplessly for his family, and we feel his heartbreak when he finally believes them slain. We weep for Margaret and her children, forced into slavery for the Maori tribe who kidnapped them. And we suffer pity for hapless Nancy, just the bystander in a horrible situation.
Moran makes us think about relationships, love, and loyalty among family. She paints a remarkable, unimaginable situation that actually happened. And even though the book description tells you that Margaret lives, it’s still a tortuous read to see how she and her family physically survive to land in California. I haven’t read as strong a character as Margaret in quite some time. For that matter, all of Moran’s characters are lifelike and concrete. They are based on a true story, but it takes more than a historical note to create the world of the Oades’ family as they are in Moran’s book. It takes skill, and a deep and lovely imagination.
4 very impressed stars
(I received an ARC copy of this novel from Random House)