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WOMEN OF MAGDELENE
By Rosemary Poole-Carter
Kunati, 2007 ($24.95)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Set in Louisiana just after the Civil War. Dr. Robert Mallory, a member of a wealthy family, spent the war years butchering young soldiers, sawing off shattered and gangrenous limbs in an attempt to save their lives. He is weary of the blood and pain and death, and wants to use his abilities to heal. Banished by his father, who blames him for his sister’s death, he takes a job at the Magadelene Ladies’ Lunatic Asylum, an antebellum mansion now housing the mentally ill sisters of the South.
Robert got the position because of his family’s friendship with Dr. Kingston, who runs Magdalene. Dr. Kingston lets Robert know from the start that he is there on sufferance, that he is to care for the physical problems of the patients, and by no means is he to interfere with the treatment for their mental ailments. Robert is troubled by what he sees, patients overmedicated, barbaric treatments, favoritism for those who are most obedient to the doctor, women who appear to be there only because they’d become an inconvenience for their husbands, but Dr. Kingston rebuffs any attempt by Robert to make any changes.
This is a beautifully written novel, its tone reminiscent of Cold Mountain. Dr. Mallory is a flawed but honorable and decent man, trying to recover from that terrible war, redeem himself for the wrongs he did, and forgive those who wronged him. We know there can be no happy ending, but oh, how we wish there could be.
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