Review by Leslie H. Nicoll
Jonathon Carver, a young Puritan school teacher, meets the handsome Nathaniel Morgan, master cooper. He comes to recognize the longings he has had all his life as desire for the love of another man. Nathaniel provides that love.
Their love must be carefully guarded as they live in Colonial America at the time of the call to Awakening of the Puritan spirit. Knowing that the penalty for their love is dire, they strive to keep their affair secret.
Desperate for a way to resolve their situation they devise a bold plan that could free them to be together as they desire. But, can even their great love for one another overcome the structure of the society in which they live?
History tells us that the Puritans lived simple, strict lives; people did not engage in activities for fun, nor did they marry for love. Imagine, then, what happens when two men look at each other and Cupid’s arrow pierces their hearts. That, in a nutshell, is the story of Jonathon and Nathaniel in Awakening by Terry O’Reilly. The book caught my eye because I enjoy colonial American history and the location is a town I know well—Newburyport, Massachusetts. All of these elements have great potential, but unfortunately, the author fell short enough times that overall, the book was a disappointment.
The story itself was fairly simple and straightforward without a lot of twists. I don’t want to say too much lest I give too much of the plot away. Suffice it to say, Jonathon and Nathaniel were very sympathetic characters and I came to believe in their love. I wanted them to be together, but I, like they, realized the reality of the time and place in which they were living. This was the biggest strength of the book—painting the picture of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles they faced to be friends and lovers.
While Jonathon and Nathaniel were well-drawn, the rest of the characters came off as very two-dimensional: mean brother, stern preacher, sympathetic Indian, and so on. I think this is a reflection of the author’s skill as a writer—he has potential but he needs to work on his craft. The sex scenes were colorful and had some passion but most of the other writing was wooden and flat. I kept reading because I wanted to find out what happened to Jonathon and Nathaniel—without that hook, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to finish the book.
I also think there was a missed opportunity with the setting of Newburyport. All the reader really knows is that there is a wharf, tavern, cooperage, school and of course, the ever-present meeting house, but that’s about it. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more description of the town which would have added texture and complexity and made for a more interesting reading experience.
The story ends on a perfect bittersweet note and then…is totally destroyed by the Afterword. For this, I am going to blame the editor, not the author. Editor, where were you with your big blue pencil to X this out completely? Why did you let this stand? Readers, take my advice and stop when you see “Afterword.” Don’t read on, don’t turn the page. The only valuable bit of information (besides some details about the author’s life, which more appropriately should have been included in an author bio) is the revelation that the story is based on real people and drawn from letters and diaries that the author found in the trunk. If this is, in fact, true, it makes it even more of a shame that Jonathon’s and Nathaniel’s story wasn’t more expertly told because, truly, they deserved better—in that life and this.
Click here to the visit author’s website, which includes an excerpt from the book and links to purchase it at various ebook retailers.