Sunday, May 16, 2010

My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

book cover

My Name Is Mary Sutter
by Robin Oliveira

Hardback: 384 pages
Publisher: Viking
First Released: 2010

Source: ARC from the publisher.

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
An enthralling historical novel about a young woman's struggle to become a doctor during the Civil War.

In this stunning first novel, Mary Sutter is a brilliant, head­strong midwife from Albany, New York, who dreams of becoming a surgeon. Determined to overcome the prejudices against women in medicine--and eager to run away from her recent heartbreak of seeing the man she loves marry her twin sister--Mary leaves home and travels to Washington, D.C. to help tend the legions of Civil War wounded. Under the guidance of William Stipp and James Blevens--two surgeons who fall unwittingly in love with Mary's courage, will, and stubbornness in the face of suffering--and resisting her mother's pleas to return home to help with the birth of her twin sister's baby, Mary pursues her medical career in the desperately overwhelmed hospitals of the capital.

Powerfully evoking the atmosphere of the period and rich with historical detail (including depictions of Lincoln, Dorothea Dix, General McClellan, and John Hay), and full of the tragedies and challenges of wartime, My Name Is Mary Sutter is an exceptional novel. Mary is a truly unforgettable heroine whose unwavering determination and vulnerability will resonate with readers everywhere.

My Name Is Mary Sutter is historical fiction set during the American Civil War (from just after the initiating shots had been fired on Fort Sumter in 1861 to shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862). There was some romance, but it's not a romance novel. Both men and women will enjoy this story.

This novel contained a wealth of historical detail--medical, social, political, etc.--expertly woven into the action without slowing the pace. The details brought the story alive in my imagination, and I felt like this story really had happened, partly because so much of it was based on real places, people, and events. The author didn't shy away from portraying the war like it really was. Clearly, she carefully researched the novel using documents from the time period that described the events and medical procedures, but she never let the novel turn into a lecture about all she'd learned.

The characters were realistic and likable and they struggled with realistic problems and fears. The pacing was very good. I kept turning the pages, wanting to know what happened next.

There was no explicit sex. Usually sex was simply implied (like a wedding night), but, one place, it was quite clear what was going on even if it wasn't body-part explicit. There was a minor amount of cussing and swearing. The medical details did get a bit gory in places. Overall, I'd highly recommend this novel as well-written, enjoyable, and fairly clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
"Are you Mary Sutter?" Hours had passed since James Blevens had called for the midwife. All manner of shouts and tumult drifted in from the street, and so he had answered the door to his surgery rooms with some caution, but the young woman before him made an arresting sight: taller and wider than was generally considered handsome, with an unflattering hat pinned to an unruly length of curls, though an enticing brightness about the eyes compensated. "Mary Sutter, the midwife?" he asked.

"Yes, I am Mary Sutter." The young woman looked from the address she had inscribed that afternoon in her small, leather-bound notebook to the harried man in front of her, wondering how he could possibly know who she was. He was all angles, and his sharp chin gave the impression of discipline, though his uncombed hair and unbuttoned vest were damp with sweat.

"Oh, thank God," he said, and, catching her by the elbow, pulled her inside and slammed the door shut on the cold April rain and the stray warble of a bugle in the distance. James Blevens knew Mary Sutter only by reputation. She is good, even better than her mother, people said. Now he formed an indelible impression of attractiveness, though there was nothing attractive about her. Her features were far too coarse, her hair far too wild and already beginning to silver. She was an odd one, this Mary Sutter.

A kerosene lantern flickered in the late afternoon dimness, revealing shelves of medical instruments: scales, tensile prongs, hinged forceps, monaural and chest stethoscopes, jars of picked fetal pigs, ether stoppered in azure glass, a femur bone stripped in acid, a human skull, a stomach floating in brine, jars of medicines, an apothecary's mortar and pestle. Mary could barely tear her eyes from the bounty.

"She is here, at last," the man said over his shoulder.

Mary Sutter peered into the darkness and saw a young woman lying on an exam table, a blanket thrown across her swollen belly, betraying the unmistakable exhaustion of late labor.

"Excuse me, but were you expecting me?" Mary asked.

"Yes, yes," he said, waving her question away with irritation. "Didn't my boy send you here?"

"No. I came to see you on my own. Are you Dr. Blevens?"

"Of course I am."


Tea said...

Great review too. I would love to read this one.

Genre Reviewer said...


Thank you for taking the time to comment. I'm glad you liked the review, and I hope you do get a chance to read the novel.