Friday, June 8, 2012

Bonus Wife: The Wives of Henry Oades

I really liked the first two thirds of Johanna Moran's The Wives of Henry Oades. The story of a family that ended up multiplied was inspired by a newspaper clipping, but Moran's story slips you inside the lives of Henry and Margaret as they sail for New Zealand with their children. Details such as the interaction with the well meaning and bustling friends also delineate their attitudes and affection for each other, so when they are parted, their worry and faith feel very true.

The plot allows for interesting growth, as Margaret struggles on her own in slavery while Henry fights against despair and finally gives up and moves to America to start a new life, convinced that his family is dead. He eventually marries the very young Nancy to save her, mainly because he sees in her the chance to redo the death of his first wife; instead of dying in a fire, he saves her from one. Yet they come to feel a real affection for each other, one strong enough to handle the shock when Margaret miraculously finds her way to him.

At this point, Moran stops writing the book I wanted her to write. She focuses on the legal problems of the family, as virulent anti-Mormon sentiment rages at the man caught in polygamy. Although the three main characters stay true to character, the other people flatten, from the universally evil neighbors and acquaintances to the silly and petty children. When Moran concentrates on the relationships between Henry and his old and new wives, or even better on the friendship that slowly grows between the two women, the book shines, but I had to force myself to read through the complaints about the justice system or the next turn of obvious cruelty by the system. I give this book high marks for character and emotional truth, but the plot itself played against these strengths.  Of course, I think this part is based on what actually happened, but nobody ever said truth made for a great novel.

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