The best history stories show us ourselves in a different setting. And so it is with Adrienne Morris’ ambitious novel The House on Tenafly Road. I had expected a nostalgic view of a New Jersey village almost 150 years ago. But what I discovered between the covers was the compelling story of a complicated man whose early circumstances as a mixed race (Delaware Indian and British) child of poverty and his Civil War battle wounds nearly destroy his life and family.
John Weldon is a brave and honorable man, but he knows himself so little. The reader can see that he has the potential to be a true hero, and the girl of his dreams, Katherine McCullough, certainly sees him this way. John comforts others with his impressive knowledge of scripture, but he has lost his own faith.
Believing himself to be undeserving–a weak man for having become addicted to the drug given him by the Army doctor–, he secretly feeds his addiction to morphine. Perhaps John is a classic anti-hero because although the reader watches John’s world crumble around him because of his addiction, the reader desperately wants John to succeed. For the most part, John demonstrates loyalty, courage, and compassion for others, although he is not so generous with himself.
Rather than the main characters building a life in New Jersey, John’s army career soon leads the young family to the wilds of the Arizona Territory. Katherine can no longer be the suburban lady she was raised to be, but must toughen up as an officer’s wife in the most far-flung post she can imagine. John and Katherine raise their two children in a tiny, unadorned cabin. I live in present-day air-conditioned Arizona, and it was exciting to read of the relentless heat, the flora and fauna, and of course, the U.S. Army’s relationship with the native tribes of the region.
The novel is long (much longer than most books) but John’s path to redemption is plagued with very realistic setbacks and mistakes, and I hung on to every word, eager to get to the next plot development. In a book this rich and layered, various threads repeatedly surface. For example, as makes sense for a serious book of American history, Morris examines the issue of race—specifically Native American images through the eyes of well-read east coast citizens, through the military, and through John Weldon himself. She doesn’t shy away from controversial topics, such as Weldon’s Indian mother’s alcoholism. Her touch is so deft that while she made my heart break at seeing atrocities against the Apaches through the eyes of the appalled and far-removed Americans back in New Jersey, she also showed me the results of two cultures slamming into one another.
Underlying all lies John’s nasty little secret—the addiction he keeps from his wife. I hadn’t realized that morphine addiction among returning Civil War soldiers was a problem until I read this book and decided to Google it. It’s estimated that a half million men became morphine addicts thanks to their service to our divided country. There were no rehabs and no 12-step programs in those days. Perhaps the only hope that an addict could have would be his faith, and above all, The House on Tenafly Road is about faith. Morris so skillfully weaves questions of faith and love in this epic tale that it isn’t until the end of the book that all stills and clarity emerges.
One final note: the version I read still had some typos and mechanical errors, but a revision has cleaned up these problems, at least according to a spot check that I made.
Go, now, check out Adrienne’s blog, too. NOTHING GILDED, NOTHING GAINED: WHERE PAST MEETS PRESENT AT MIDDLEMAY FARM
39 responses to “Love in the Time of War Injuries and Apache Relations”
That sounds like a good book with a lot of sub-plots.
It has stuck with me, which is really telling. The story seems so unique and yet appears to be a traditional historical novel. I really like the drug addiction angle.
You are very kind, Luanne. Thanks so much for reading and reviewing my book! To hear that my characters and the story of their lives have stuck with you is the highest compliment.
I can’t get them out of my head.
Sounds like a fascinating book Luanne, thanks for sharing it.
Thanks for reading the review, Andrea! You know it was good for me to read a long book haha!
Wow — what an impressive book. You’ve convinced me to read it!
Oh, that’s great, WJ! Enjoy!
Great review, Luanne!
Thanks, Jill. I love the way the book made learning something new so entertaining!
Sounds very interesting.
Very very interesting!
Your review has encouraged me to check out the author’s blog and to check out the book. Always enjoy historical fiction from this time. Good job! 🙂
Enjoy it, Mark! I hadn’t read a really long book in ages, and at first I was scared, but then it was fun because I didn’t have to leave the world of the novel so soon. I hope that makes sense!
As always, Luanne, you make perfect sense! 🙂
Oh, I like hearing that!
It sounds interesting. Characters in the TV shows, “Copper” and “Mercy Street,” both doctors, became addicted to morphine during the Civil War.
I’ve never heard of those shows (I had to stop watching tv to have time to write!), but I’d probably enjoy them. I’m always fascinated by how many different ways addiction can creep into people’s lives. We like to imagine that these people are so different from ourselves, but inside every addict is a person with pain, hope, etc. just like us.
I never thought I’d be writing about the addict in my book but he kind of took over (and I fell in love with him). 🙂
It’s a good sign when you fall in love with your characters, I would assume. 🙂
My mom recently told me about Mercy Street. She said I would probably love it, and I said it sounded like they stole the idea from Adrienne’s book! But then I looked it up and of course it’s entirely different.
So funny, Luanne. Morphine addiction was a big problem after the Civil War because it was given to wounded to soldiers, but others were also addicted to morphine, opium, and laudanum during this time. It wasn’t regulated, so you could buy a “tonic” or something that had some form in it.
You probably would like Mercy Street. It got better as it went on, but I haven’t watched the last episode yet. 🙂
Absolutely horrifying that they addicted soldiers this way. But they had so few options for wounds that left them with chronic pain!
We really enjoyed “Mercy Street” this winter. It was a well-produced series, one of those I hated to see come to an end.
I wish Netflix wasn’t such a hassle on my TV so I could see some of these shows that I miss!
Thanks for the review, Luanne.
Thanks for reading it, Rudri. Hope all is well!
Oh no, another book I’m going to have to buy, lol. I’ve been trying to cut back but it’s impossible and really, what is better than a good book? P.S. Nice review, too. Makes me want to dive inside the pages, which is what a review should do. Cheers, happy writing and have a great week.
Thanks, Cinthia! Enjoy!!! As you know, I love your book, too!
I have read Middlemay Farm posts and admired the way she writes incorporating history. What a fascinating story which takes us into many directions and heritage at its core. Congratulations, Adrienne!
Luanne, thank you for this wonderful and honest review.
OH, then you would love this book, Robin! Do they have it at your library?
Need to probably requisition it, maybe see if they will buy yours this year, too. The new male director is very nice. I did know from two organizations the past female director (Mary Jane Santos) who also follows my blog through LinkedIn. 🙂
Oh, that is very cool that she follows your blog!!! Good going, Robin!
Beautiful review, Luanne! I enjoy Adrienne’s blog posts, and I appreciate the information about this enterprising novel. It sounds as if she has done justice to the era with these characters and situations. I will need to think about adding this one to my already teetering stack of upcoming reading! Nice job!
Thanks, Carla. I was worried about reading a long book, but then I got so caught up in it that I was so glad it was long and sad when it was over!
Luckily, she has a series going!
This book sounds great, Luanne. Thanks so much for sharing 😉
Such an amazing work, too, considering the amount of work that goes into a historical novel of that length.
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