Sunday, November 3, 2013

One Thousand Porches by Julie Dewey

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Author
Read: October 29, 2013

Set in the majestic yet untamed Adirondack Mountains of New York more than a century ago, an extraordinary story unfolds about a little known town called Saranac Lake. The town is home to a man with a disease known as consumption, white plague, or as some called it, the red death. It is here that Doctor Edward Livingston Trudeau finds a hopeful cure for tuberculosis in the form of open air. Trudeau’s patients vary in age, gender, class, and race, but they have one thing in common. They must all choose to embrace life, even in the face of death, if they wish to heal at the Sanitarium. Christine, a woman at the helm of her family, has already lost two children to the dreaded plague. But when her daughter, Collette, contracts the disease, she is determined to keep her alive. Venturing into unknown territory, Christine risks her own health and that of her unborn child, as well as her marriage, to help her daughter seek a cure that to many is absurd. Christine embarks upon a life-changing journey as she moves from caregiver to patient. In the face of adversity she must find the courage to sustain herself. When Lena, a factory worker and mother of three, begins coughing up blood she is faced with a decision no mother wants to make. She either stays with her family and risks her own death, or leaves her loved ones behind while she goes off in hope of a cure at the Sans. Big Joe, once a strong man for a traveling circus, seeks a quiet place to live out his final days in hiding. When he is sent to the Sanitarium, he is terrified to learn he will be housed with fellow circus performers for he is a hunted man. Gaunt and thin, he can only hope no one from his past recognizes him in his current state. Little Amy, a six year old child, must care for her entire family of seven, all whom are afflicted with different forms of plague. When she is diagnosed with a very rare form herself, she is sent to the Sanitarium and put under the care of Dr. Trudeau. Alone and afraid, Amy faces her fears and allows herself to dream of a future. With a cast of characters so vivid, One Thousand Porches is a heart warming and engaging story that will instill hope and faith in even the most pessimistic reader.

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Berkeley House, Saranac Lake
I usually spend a bit of time considering any given title before accepting it for review, but I bypassed that step with One Thousand Porches. I didn't do so intentionally or anything, it just sort of played out like that scene in Jerry Maguire. Author Julie Dewey was throwing me a wonderful pitch and all I could think was "you had me at TB sanitarium." True story folks, you can ask her. 

Now tuberculosis is pretty common fair in the world of historic fiction. Off the top of my head, the disease claims Ruby Gillis in L. M. Montgomery's Anne of the Island, Harriet in Caroline B. Cooney's Out of Time, Fantine in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, Bessy in North and South, and Helen Burns in Jane Eyre. Most authors use it as a plot device, but Dewey actually created an entire story around it, detailing both the physical and mental toll it wrought on the infected and the effort to bring those individuals relief prior to the discovery of streptomycin. In short, Dewey gives a face to the disease and offers readers a deeper understanding of its unpredictable and fickle nature.

The thing I love most about this piece is that Dewey tells it through the eyes of several characters, individuals who either live at or are related to residents of the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium at Saranac Lake. It is true that multiple points of view can be confusing, but I think this is one of those rare cases in which the format actually enhanced the telling. There are a lot of misconceptions about tuberculosis and seeing the different strains of the disease affect people from various walks of life both, directly and indirectly, gave One Thousand Porches a really well-rounded and complete feel.

Now despite my appreciation for Dewey's approach, I think she could have pushed it further than she did. Her cast is universally appealing and each has a very distinctive voice, but the book itself leans heavily on the experiences of Christine and Amy. Though I loved the story as it is written, I would have really enjoyed equal face time with Lena, Big Joe, Collette, Daniel and Edward. 

Even so, I greatly enjoyed the time I spent reading this book. Historically significant as well as heartwarming, One Thousand Porches is an engaging tale of family, friendship, hope and perseverance in the shadow of uncertainty. 

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My heart felt heavy when watching them, for I knew they were mostly alone in the world, as I was at their age. Perhaps consumption was my good fortune. If I didn’t have a kindly neighbor who took me in and looked after me, I would never have made it to the Sans for treatment. My father used to say, “Everything happens for a reason, darling girl,” and in hindsight I think he was correct.
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1 comment:

Aunt vicki said...

Another very well written book by Julie Dewey! I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all of her characters. Each brought their own set of circumstances to "The Sans", showing that TB did not ( or does not) discriminate!! Because I live in NYS, it was particularly interesting to me, as this was a part of our state's history I knew very little about! KUDOS to Julie Dewey, for once again opening our eyes to learn more about our history!!!

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