Last year I reviewed Ellen Gable’s first book, Emily’s Hope , which won an Honorable Mention Award for religious fiction in the 2006 Independent Publisher Book Awards. I asked her to send me her second book, In Name Only, when it came out.
In 1876, Caroline Martin’s father has just passed away and she is on the train with her chaperone to Philadelphia, where she will be taken in by relatives. Here we are first introduced to two brothers, and the stage is set for a romantic courtship. It is difficult to talk about the plot without giving away the many surprises that happen during the story. The book is a very enjoyable read, neither predictable nor formulaic.
There are so many things I love about this book. Gable takes great pains to describe her characters and settings with original metaphors. The heroine Caroline is described by her suitor: strong emotion makes her freckles darken on her pale skin, and her eyes are “the color of Christmas holly”. Caroline reads some of my favorite books: Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”, Jane Austen’s “Emma”, and Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”. One can see the influence of traditional courtship and style of writing from these classics.
Like the strong, traditionally feminist characters Jane, Emma, and Meg who struggled with social mores and doing the right thing, her character flaunts convention. She refuses to wear a corset, insists on speaking to servants like they are people, and will discuss “inappropriate” topics when necessary. Her actions demonstrate that doing the proper thing is not always the same as doing the right thing.
Through her complex characters, Gable addresses some tricky subjects for couples who are either engaged or married: chastity, honesty, and obedience. For single people, she shows that someone who has made poor choices in the past can choose the right path and stay on it. For all people, death is a part of life and how we deal with it has a big effect on both ourselves and the people around us. Gable says, “ I wanted to write a story that was entertaining, and at the same time, I hope that they will learn lessons about self-giving love, marriage, sacrifice, life and death.”
In Name Only is definitely geared toward adults. Married couples struggle with bedroom issues. One of the male characters is addicted to gambling, sex, and pornography. Midwives assist in abortions (back then referred to as “bringing on a period”). Some of the characters die.
Gable shows the dire consequences of sinful behaviors; but also that it is never too late to turn your life around. The healing power of forgiveness will not bring back the lives that are lost, but it will help the survivors to move on. Gable’s tale is no Pollyanna story. The ending is both uplifting and realistic. I can see it as a good book to read in conjunction with a marriage preparation course.
Ellen Gable lives with her husband and five children in Pakenham, Ontario, Canada. She and her husband James Hrkach have been active in the last 25 years in Catholic apologetics, teaching Natural Family Planning, participating in Marriage Preparation, and promoting chastity. You can order her book or find out more about the author at her website, Full Quiver Publishing.