Eclipse is a fictionalized account of the lives of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark after their return from the first great transcontinental expedition across North America in 1806. The two men were darlings of the young republic of the United States, and the pride of President Thomas Jefferson because they made his dream of a nation between two great oceans come true.
The novel is told in the alternating voices of Lewis and Clark, and they are distinct. The courageous and brilliant Lewis returns from the expedition with a heavy secret, an illness that means the end of his hopes and dreams for the future. His pride and his shame lead him to self-treat his condition, an action that is often self-destructive. His illness, as well as his meticulous nature, causes him to delay editing and transcribing the journals from the expedition so that they can be published.
Clark, in contrast, is straightforward, plainspoken and practical. He demonstrates a romantic streak in his courtship of Julia Hancock, and he acts responsibly in attempting to help his brother, George Rogers Clark, who has fallen onto hard times after helping to found the city of Louisville, Kentucky. William Clark will not allow his wife and family to suffer poverty and loss of property through any careless administration on his part. He admires Lewis and is puzzled to see the downhill course of his life after their return from the West.
Dialogue is vivid; narration flows smoothly. Wheeler has researched his subject thoroughly, and his explanation for Lewis’ early death is convincing. This is an interesting and readable treatment of the subject, and it made me want to learn more.