Review Copy Provided via Netgalley by the Publisher
Expected Publication: September 15, 2012
The year is 1796, and a trading ship arrives in the vibrant trading town of Newburyport, Massachusetts. But it’s a ghost ship–her entire crew has been decimated by a virulent fever which sweeps through the harbor town, and Newburyport’s residents start to fall ill and die with alarming haste. Something has to be done to stop the virus from spreading further. When physician Giles Wiggins places the port under quarantine, he earns the ire of his shipbuilder half-brother, the wealthy and powerful Enoch Sumner, and their eccentric mother, Miranda. Defiantly, Giles sets up a pest-house, where the afflicted might be cared for and separated from the rest of the populace in an attempt to contain the epidemic.
As the seaport descends into panic, religious fervor, and mob rule, bizarre occurrences ensue: the harbormaster ‘s family falls victim to the fever, except for his son, Leander Hatch, who is taken in at the Sumner mansion and a young woman, Marie Montpelier, is fished out of the Merrimac River barely clinging to life, causing Giles and Enoch who is convinced she ‘s the expatriate daughter of the French king to vie for her attentions–all while medical supplies are pillaged by a black marketer from Boston. As the epidemic grows, fear, greed, and unhinged obsession threaten the Sumner family and the future of Newburyport itself.
I had previously listened to and reviewed Smolen’s book, The Schoolmaster’s Daughter, so when Quarantine showed up on Netgalley I jumped on the opportunity to read and review it. Having grown up outside of the US, I never really studied US history until college and then it was limited to very specific classes – so my knowledge of the fever that struck the east coast of the US in the late 1700’s is relatively little – most of what I know, I gained from reading Laurie Halsie Anderson’s Fever 1793
There were a variety of things that I enjoyed about the book – specifically the details about how the various medical practices from the time were incorporated into trying to save the town from the fever. I actually felt that if the focus had been solely on the struggle of the town and the quarantine, then the book would have been much better than it was. Unfortunately, it was the other story lines – the town surgeon and his fractured relationship with his family, the relationship between the women who could be construed as the town matriarch and her son and their scheming ways. I also have to admit, when I reached the last page of the book, I was confused with the outcome – yes, they managed to survive the fever and the town moved on, but all the other various plot lines, it was almost like the author had reached a page limit and decided to end it – I just felt like there wasn’t much resolution…
Overall, I don’t think I could give this book more than about 2.5 stars and while I don’t know of any fiction books similar to the subject, aside from the YA by Laurie Halsie Anderson, I would have a hard time recommending this book to many people, unless they were looking for this very specific event. That being said, I am more curious about the time period after reading this, so I am going to see about maybe picking up a non-fiction that discusses the period to read some more.