“Forgiveness” By: Phillip Kendrick
Author: Phillip Kendrick
Publisher: Archway Publishing
Pages: 195 (Hardcover)
Novel Explores the Civil War Through a Young Doctor’s Eyes
The dust jacket copy says that Phillip Kendrick of Mobile’s Eastern Shore has published scientific articles on nurse anesthesia and patient care and has a lifetime interest in the American Civil War. In his Author’s Note, he writes of bicycling often past the Confederate Rest Memorial cemetery in Point Clear where approximately 300 soldiers are buried. Those wounded had been treated at the Grand Hotel, converted to a hospital, but did not survive.
Appropriate then that when Kendrick decided to write his own Civil War novel he fashioned as his narrator a young man, a recent graduate of The University of Virginia in medicine.
“Forgiveness” opens on March 10, 1863. Dr. Travis Lane has been recruited as a surgeon for Mosby’s Rangers, an irregular band that prowled the Shenandoah Valley, attacking Yankee supply lines and being a serious pest.
Although he never officially becomes an officer or puts on a uniform. Dr. Lane is persuaded to join because a military surgeon might perform 20 amputations a day, and really hone his skills as well as discovering new techniques. The stress of war brings developments in surgery.
Because of the destructiveness of the minié ball, amputations were all too common; Lane explains in his first-person account how the procedure is done, step by step, and how anesthesia is delivered to the patients.
Often the patient is first given some whiskey although this may not be a good idea. Then chloroform is administered, drop by drop, onto a cloth that covers a wire mask at a rate of one drop per second or less, if the patient is weak.
Elsewhere, Dr. Lane discusses “soldier’s sickness,” that is addiction to opiates, and further remarks on the free use of opiates, rubbing paregoric, that is opium, onto the gums of crying infants, or taking laudanum for “women’s complaints,” cough, diarrhea, you name it!
Dr. Lane becomes a somewhat ubiquitous figure, like Forrest Gump, operating on the wounded and dying General Stonewall Jackson and later present in Mobile at the testing of the Confederate submarine “The Hunley” where he also delivers a lecture on Masons and the Knights Templar. We are told that In Mobile Lane meets Dr. Josiah Nott, infamous for publishing that “Caucasians and Negroes were created by God as two separate species,” Kendrick tells us.
For a while I thought “Forgiveness” might make a young adult novel, but Lane and his wife are newly married and indulge in a good deal of marital bliss. They plan the evening’s sex play and Lane tells the reader, “Women love acting during sex. It allowed them to be uninhibited. I would say ‘I love what you did last night’ and she would say ‘That wasn’t me. That was Gigi.’”
Kendrick has a done a lot of research, which he intends to make use of. He has Lane explain, in brief, why Great Britain did not aid the Confederacy, the role of cotton in the Deep South, western expansion of free states. Some of the information seems dubious. For example, one character, speaking of some leaders’ flashy uniforms, asserts that in species, like lions, in which males stand out, this “leads to them being the ones attacked by their predators.” Who are the male lions’ predators?
As a novel, “Forgiveness” is only serviceable There is too much exposition and explanation and the dialog is often stiff. There are too few real scenes developed, which is a shame because the material, battlefield and operating room, is intrinsically dramatic.
Nevertheless, some of the bits Kendrick throws in, true or not, are wonderful.
When Dr. Lane is reminded that the ladies are quite fond of Jeb Stuart, he replies “I just wonder if the feeling is mutual,” suggesting General Stuart was a “gal-boy.” You don’t see that every day.
Don Noble’s newest book is Alabama Noir, a collection of original stories by Winston Groom, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, Brad Watson, and eleven other Alabama authors.