Midnight Sun is a book of squandered possibilities. The Alaskan turn of the century setting isn’t made vivid, a mostly interesting cast of characters fails to engage the reader, and a plot-line full of promise falls flat. There’s an enervating lack of excitement in this romance between an idealistic woman doctor and the wealthy mine owner who loves her. Its cause? A choppy style of writing, a whore named June, and an unbelievable fertility problem. If that explanation sounds intriguing, than this review is bound to be more interesting than the book.
Amelia Sheldon, a Philadelphia blue blood, comes to Alaska to become the medical partner of Dr. Ben Taylor only to discover he never planned for her to be a true partner – only a midwife. Like all the men in Gold Landing, he doesn’t believe a woman has what it takes to be a “real” doctor. Neither does William Gunning, the self-made wealthy gold mine owner who runs the town, and though Amelia’s beauty stuns him from the moment he sets eyes upon her, he wastes no time in telling her so when they meet at her welcoming party.
William isn’t the only man with eyes for Amelia, however; cultured lawyer Abe Ferguson has more in common with her than does William, and the two strike up a friendship. We are told more than we are shown that William and Amelia antagonize each other because of their differences on how the local Indians should be treated, whether or not a woman could be a good doctor, and the need for a town clinic. It is as they work their way through these differences that the antagonism we are told they have turns into friendship. And friendship turns into love.
Unfortunately, William believes the only reason for marriage is to have children, and we are told Amelia is unable to bear them. Unfortunately, a local whore frequented by William believes he would marry her were Amelia out of the picture, and her efforts to make her dreams a reality become more and more excessive as the book continues. Unfortunately, these two problems coalesce into a final conflict that threatens the love between William and Amelia.
Unfortunately, these three points are what cause the book to fall flat. Why would a young, unmarried, virginal woman be examined by a doctor for fertility at the start of the century? What is her diagnosis? When this reviewer doubts the legitimacy of a major plot point, a red flag is immediately raised. June, the local whore, was another flaw in Midnight Sun. Everything about her seemed contrived and annoying. When a character takes up as much space in a book as June does, she’d better be worth reading. June was not.
Drunken Dr. Ben and Ella, the local schoolmarm, were far more engaging to read about than Amelia and William. When the secondary characters outshine the primary ones, something’s wrong. The author’s style of writing was incredibly choppy – each scene was very short so that not only was the passage of time inferred rather than felt, but the action never really built up enough to become important. We were told Amelia and William antagonized each other, but beyond the first scene where they met and clashed, we never really see it. We are then told they become friends, but again, we never really see it. We are always told how they feel and seldom shown.
As a result, many questions are left unanswered at the end of this book. About the only good thing I can say about Midnight Sun is that Amelia almost seemed real. Her frustrations about not being trusted as a doctor came through. Her not understanding the antagonism against the Indians seemed realistic. But William never took shape for me, and why Abe ended up in Alaska is still a mystery to me. Not that I care, really, and neither should you.