Review: Divided Hearts by Terry O’Reilly

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

When Jonathan and Nathaniel part ways, Nathaniel heads for the Ohio territory and a new life with Robert. Robert soon realizes his friend will never reciprocate his love fully. What can he do? Robert agrees to help the English translate in their negotiations with the Shawnee and in doing so meets Red Horse. Now there are two men living with Divided Hearts.

Review

Divided Hearts is one of the stranger books I’ve read in awhile. Let me try to explain.

Divided Hearts is the sequel to Awakening, which I read and reviewed earlier at this site. I had some issues with Awakening but was sympathetic towards the two central characters, Jonathan and Nathaniel. I also liked Robert, the young man with an Indian mother and English father who becomes an apprentice to Nathaniel in his cooperage. Awakening ends with Nathaniel and Robert heading off to a new life and some sense that there are lots of broken hearts littering the ground.

As Divided Hearts opens, we discover that Nathaniel and Robert are living in the Ohio Territory. It’s not exactly clear where they are living since very little description is given of their surroundings (in the village? Out in the woods?) but they have a house that they share and seem to be content. Robert longs for Nathaniel and Nathaniel is still longing for Jonathan. In a moment of weakness and need, Nathaniel invites Robert to bed with him; they have sex and Robert says “I love you” but Nathaniel doesn’t respond.

Time passes, which is described as “years.” Robert begins sleeping with Nathaniel more frequently but still does not receive the declaration of love that he longs for. Robert is trying to decide if this is his lot in life—“an unequal love”—when all of a sudden, on page 30, we have the first of several “jarring interludes.”

If you go back and re-read my review of Awakening, you’ll notice that I advised readers to skip the Afterword because I felt it was an unnecessary and intrusive add-on that ruined the bittersweet ending. Well, the author either didn’t read or care about my suggestion because in Divided Hearts, the “afterword” has become a series of jarring interludes that are peppered throughout the book. In these, the author flips to the present time and shares details of his life with his husband, Drew, and their seeing eye dog, Jive. Drew, who is blind, acts as the cheerleader for Terry’s writing (the interludes are written in the third person). Drew and Terry discuss the evolving story in such a way to make sure that we readers, in case we are too dense to figure it out on our own, know exactly what is going on. The interludes become increasingly irrelevant and personal (Jive’s week-long bout with diarrhea; Terry’s ill-advised one night stand with his boss) but they also have a train wreck quality. I actually began to look forward to them, more than I enjoyed reading the story because the story was…boring.

Yes, boring. As with Awakening, the writing is wooden and flat. People talk to each other, they ride around on horses and that’s about it. The sex scenes are the only lively part of the narrative. They do have a little passion and flair but that’s not enough to sustain a reader’s interest for 164 pages—at least not this reader.

Divided Hearts is supposed to be a historical fiction but the only thing that makes it historical is a very brief mention of the coming Revolutionary War, transportation is by horse, and the fact that Robert is running around with the Shawnee in parts of the US that would eventually become Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia. This is faithful to US history circa 1758 so I guess O’Reilly got that right, but none of this history is presented in the story—I just looked it up on Wikipedia. No detail, no description, no little flourishes that make historical fiction fun to read.

The story wraps up with not one but two happy-ever-after endings which makes Drew very happy (revealed to us in yet another interlude) but left me shaking my head. Now, here’s my paradox: I feel bad giving this book a bad review because the author seems like a genuinely nice guy (he shares quite a bit of personal information in the course of the text). But he really needs to find an editor/mentor who will help him with polishing his writing and storytelling and give him some good, honest advice, ie, “The interludes don’t work, Terry. Leave them out.” O’Reilly seems to have good ideas for stories but at the present stage of his authorial development, he is unable to convey them effectively, which is why I can only rate this book at 1.5 stars.

Available from Aspen Mountain Press

Disclosure: I received an ebook review copy of Divided Hearts from Erastes, owner of this site, who had also previously given me a copy of Awakenings, also for review.

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