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By: Sara Donati
Publication Date: September 2015
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: September 14, 2015
Sara Donati introduces the Savard cousins (Drs. Anna and Sophie) to her audience in her latest novel, The Gilded Hour, and delivers an interesting story set in a time of monstrous economic and industrial growth in our nation.
New York City is bustling. Change is abound in 1883 (the Gilded Age) and construction is nearly completed on the Brooklyn Bridge. There is a stark contrast between the haves and have-nots that is blatantly present. Anthony Comstock is a force to reckon with as much as fear. His personal mission is to rid the city of indecency no matter the stakes. Dr. Anna Savard and her cousin Dr. Sophie Savard are successful physicians having graduated from the Woman’s Medical School and their commitment is to treat the most afflicted the city has to offer.
Anna is drawn to orphaned children—lives that remind her of her own situation of growing up an orphan. In the latest round of immigrants to arrive in New York, Anna meets four orphaned children who have lost everything. Anna’s encounter resurrects a challenge within her to either deal with her past or accept it, move on and learn how to love. Sophie too is an orphan; a daughter of free people of color and her calling is obstetrics. Both women wrestle with the formidable Comstock and his relentless campaign to jail physicians who administer contraceptives or abortions to young and quite desperate mothers who cannot bear to have another child to care for. However, Sophie’s Hippocratic Oath overrides the consequences should she be caught defying Comstock. As a result, both doctors enter the dangerous web of Comstock’s goal to clean up the city of such despicable practices once and for all.
While I’ve not had the pleasure of reading any of Ms. Donati’s Wilderness series, I will credit her with delivering an intriguing novel across the pages of The Gilded Hour. The timeline is an epically historic period of time in America. New York is rife with history and Ms. Donati zeroes in on its days gone by with an abundance of credibility and believability. Donati educates her audience on The Gilded Age and how America was a coveted place where dreams could be fulfilled for those willing and brave enough to risk their lives to experience it. Ms. Donati masters her descriptions of the distinct and blatant division between people who lived day in and day out with nothing while their counterparts luxuriated in opulence before them. She also has a knack for painting precise pictures and imagery through her prose; complementing the task with succinct dialogue among her characters. However, there is a specific frustration I experienced in reading The Gilded Hour: 741 pages is too long! Quite frankly, there were many occasions when I felt like a hamster on a wheel given the stall in the storyline. Ms. Donati took her stylistic artistry and restated passages from one chapter to the next in that she wrote the same thing with different words. If Ms. Donati would consider paring this story down by a couple of hundred pages, in my opinion, she would open the door to a broader audience to read it.
Quill says: The Gilded Hour is an interesting journey through an iconic period of time in America.