Like many other readers, I long for books that have unique settings. While small town USA in 1918 is not an exotic location, it is a most under-utilized one. When I saw that Alexis Harrington’s Home by Morning was written around World War I and the influenza epidemic of 1918, I knew I had to read it.
After graduating from Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia, Jessica Layton spent years working in New York City’s tenements. She thought that she could make a difference but after months and months of fighting the unassailable foes of poverty, filth, and hopelessness, she can no longer face the nightmares. She has accepted a new position at Seattle General Hospital working in their research laboratory. On the way to Seattle, she stops off at Powell Springs, Oregon for a few days to visit her sister Amy. She has put off going home because the man who once promised to wait for her is now courting her sister. Her train arrives while a town parade is in progress for Eddie Cookson, the mayor’s son now going off to war. Before Jessica can even get her own luggage off the train, Eddie collapses. Hours later, she realizes that influenza has hit her hometown.
Cole Braddock’s notion that he has been able to forget his feelings for Jessica dies the moment he sees her. He and Jess fell in love when they were teenagers. After Jess told him that she was staying in New York City he was heartbroken. He didn’t set out to keep company with Jess’ sister but proximity and her flattery swayed him. The sister is eager to make a home for him, but his own ambivalence holds him back. He must cope with enough already as his brother fights overseas, leaving him to manage the family business which entails supplying horses to the army.
The setting of the book and the plot built about the 1918 influenza epidemic made the book for me. Most of us heard about the more recent deaths related to H1N1(Swine) flu. And that occurred with all that modern medicine has to offer, such as antibiotics, ventilators, and heart/lung bypass machines. While Ms. Harrington doesn’t go into a lot of detail, it was enough to make me imagine the hopelessness, bewilderment, and weariness that surely spread when coping with the devastation of war and epidemic back in 1918. In addition, the World War I scenes, while concise, again made me realize how brave and heroic these men were, surviving mustard gas and all the other horrors of war.
While the love story is fairly predictable, it is still sweet. Through the author’s foreshadowing, the reader has a good idea what separated these two soul mates. At times, I felt the pacing was a little slow but the characters, the time period, and the Spanish Influenza angle keep me reading. The balance between the romance and history is perfect. Even though illness and war are by nature depressing subjects, the book really does not feel gloomy.
This book makes me excited and gives me hope that publishers and authors will take note that readers do enjoy books that embrace our history and illustrate the hardships that our ancestors faced. Thank you, Ms. Harrington, for a very promising read.