Review (Amazon): Young pianist Catherine Wainwright flees the fashionable town of Dayton, Ohio, in the wake of a terrible scandal. Heartbroken and facing destitution, she finds herself striking up correspondence with a childhood admirer, the recently widowed Oscar Williams. In desperation, she agrees to marry him, but when Catherine travels to Oscar’s farm on Galveston Island, Texas—a thousand miles from home—she finds she is little prepared for the life that awaits her. The island is remote, the weather sweltering, and Oscar’s little boy Andre is grieving hard for his lost mother. And though Oscar tries to please his new wife, the secrets of the past sit uncomfortably between them.
Meanwhile, for Nan Ogden, Oscar’s housekeeper, Catherine’s sudden arrival has come as a great shock. For not only did she promise Oscar’s first wife that she would be the one to take care of little Andre, but she has feelings for Oscar that she is struggling to suppress. And when the worst storm in a generation descends, the women will find themselves tested as never before.
My Review (Spoilers!):
Executive Summary: realistic
Sorry I’ve been off the radar for a while. I started and quit two separate books before I got through this one–both of which I do intend to pick back up at some point. This spring has been a whirlwind for me that I’m just about out of.
This book was set (mostly) in Galveston, which living in Houston, I’m well familiar with. I’ve also been to Dayton, Ohio which is where the main characters are originally from. So it made the book kind of easy for me to relate to. The other connection is that this book focuses partly on the 1900 hurricane of Galveston, which I have read Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson previously (great book if you’ve never read it) and if you have been watching the news, Houston this past week went through some of the worst rainfall/flooding it’s had in many many years. (A week later, some roads are still impassable.)
The book begins with two separate stories. In Dayton, Ohio, Catherine Wainwright is trying to figure out her life. She moved back to her hometown from Philadelphia where she had been an up and coming musician–a pianist with the orchestra. She was involved with a man from Dayton whose wife was handicapped (I was never clear exactly what was going on with her), and she wrongly believed his tales that they could be together. She moved back to Dayton to be with him, but he wouldn’t divorce his wife, and she was left in scandal. The towns’ folk gossiped about her, and stopped sending their children to take piano lessons from her, her main source of income. Destitute, she began thinking of options. She remembers a man from her childhood, Oscar Williams, and writes him a letter.
At the same time as Catherine is going through her crisis, Oscar is going through his own. The love of his life, his wife Bernadette has died along with their second child in vitro. Their remaining child, Andre is four, and he is sent to the orphanage while Oscar gets his bearings. Oscar moved to Galveston to find his own life, abandoning his father’s career (and ultimate demise) of hauling coal. Oscar owns a dairy farm on the ridge of the island where he is well respected for his kind ways. His nearest neighbors are the Ogdens, and the children (in their late teens and 20s) work on Oscar’s farm. Wiley and Frank T. work on the farm, and Nan works in the house. Nan and Bernadette were best friends, and Nan promised to look after Andre for Bernadette.
Oscar and Catherine mail back and forth. Oscar asks Catherine to marry him, and she agrees. She leaves immediately for Galveston, using her last money and leaving debts in her wake. Andre has returned from the orphanage, and Nan is looking after him. Catherine is in for a huge shock upon moving to Galveston. It’s nothing like Dayton. The weather is hot and humid. The town is rough, and the island is remote. She is different and has never had to do regular house duties before. But Oscar bought a piano for her. Oscar wants Catherine to help raise his son to be more cultured like she is, but Andre (and Nan) want nothing to do with her.
The marriage is strained from the start–both Catherine and Oscar struggling to get over the loved ones they have lost, and for Catherine, the situation is even worse. She has no friends and is in a foreign place. She tries to get along with Nan, but Nan envisioned that Oscar would ask her to be his wife, so she has her own struggles to get over. Eventually Nan realizes that she can’t stay in the situation, especially when she sees Andre begin to warm up to Catherine. Her last day is a Sunday, the day the storm is to roll in.
The Ogdens have been in Galveston a long time so they prepare Catherine enough as to warn her but not to scare her. But this is not just any hurricane. This is still the largest natural disaster in American history. As the storm progresses, even on the ridge, they begin to notice that the water is getting too high. The bayou has been breached. The Ogdens go back to their home to ride out the storm. Oscar comes back to the farm, but he needs to let his animals out so they don’t spook themselves being tied up. The storm is getting very bad now, and as he is walking back to the farmhouse, he floats off where Catherine can no longer see him. She can’t risk Andre’s safety so she takes him and a collection of her and Oscar’s personal items and goes into the stairwell of the attic, singing Andre songs to keep him calm. The storm passes and as they go back downstairs, they realize that the house is OK. The water line is partway up the walls of the first floor (over the 12′ piers). There is sand and mud in all parts of the downstairs, but there is no sign of Oscar.
Eventually Wiley comes by. Frank T. is also missing, having been swept away in town. The orphanage too is completely gone, and only a couple orphans survived. Most all of the cattle and horses have died as well, leaving an awful stench. Wiley takes Andre back to the Ogden’s where Nan and Mrs. and Mr. Ogden remain. Catherine decides to stay in case Oscar comes back. During this time, while looking for some paper to leave Oscar a note, she finds a letter from his sister. His sister writes him about Catherine’s scandal back in Dayton, however, as it was dated before the wedding, she realizes that Oscar loved her regardless. She realizes how much she loves Oscar and how she will ensure that things will be different when he returns.
She goes outside and sees Nan. She begins trying to catch her attention, but while doing so, she trips on some debris and falls, right in the path of a rattlesnake. She’s struck twice and Nan helps get her back in the house, but Catherine does not survive.
Oscar’s body was never found, or was never identified. Nan in the end kept her promise to Bernadette by taking care of Andre.
Verdict: 3.5 stars
I feel a bit apathetic towards this book. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. It was well written and the love story didn’t make me want to gag. In fact, it seemed pretty realistic, especially for the time. My main reservation with giving this book a higher ranking was that it didn’t really seem like a whole lot happened throughout it. When I read Isaac’s Storm, I was left completely aghast by how tragic and terrible this hurricane was, however, reading this book, I was not struck by the same emotion at all. All in all it was a decent quick read which I did enjoy.