Oh I thought this was horrible. The story takes place just before the US enters WWII, and follows three people (more or less) - Iris, the postmistress of a town on Cape Cod, Frankie, a "girl reporter" with Edward Murrow who's stationed in London and reports on the Blitz, and Emma, an orphan who marries Dr. Fitch and moves to his town on Cape Cod. I suppose the story is supposed to be about how their lives intertwine, but the blurb on the back cover of the book suggests otherwise: that Iris withholds a piece of important war-time mail. Actually, she does not, so while the reader is waiting for the book to catch up with the blurb, she can enjoy the worst case of over-writing I have ever read.
Stylistically, the story meanders in a way that never seems to get where I thought it was going to go. It's as if it starts out with interesting intentions for each character, but doesn't follow through with them. Eventually, at the end of the book, the characters' lives become intertwined but it's still boring. For example, the beginning of the book is plagued by Emma's thoughts of being alone (she is, after all, an orphan. We are reminded of this ad nauseam), and Iris' concern for losing her virginity to a local mechanic. While Emma's orphan storyline continues in terms of her thoughts about being alone, it doesn't really go anywhere. Neither does Iris'. Frankie's continues in a way to tie the three women together, but it's not done in any compelling sort of way, and in fact, none of the women are particularly deep or three-dimensional (sometimes there are glimpses of this, though).
The ending of the book is so annoyingly contrived you can see it coming from 1,000 miles away: the mechanic kicks the bucket. One of the reviews calls this a book about the fragility of life, and how lives are affected by death, but I don't see it that way. It feels so unnatural, so obvious and, as I said, contrived, that I wonder why I spent so much time reading it.
Actually, I spent as much time reading it as I did because it is the worst case of over-writing I have ever come across. Aside from the overuse of the words thick
, the following gems occur:
"...the slow scrawl of their pencils across the white pads like some long, lean jazz" (and she was writing about journalists, not composers)
"the sky bowled up and away, curving like a cat"
"her hands reached the solid of his arms"
something about bullets/shells raining down on rooftops "like clog dancers without a song"
some guy felt "naked as a girl" (and there were a number of similar stupid references to feeling naked and girlish at the same time, since everyone knows that girls don't wear clothes)
we have "the crazy jazz of the town's rooflines"
"the old words sounded in his ears like capes for kings"
"the thicket of her hair...the severe cliff of her chin"
in one case Iris thought that Emma was "playing the doctor's wife straight up". I could
be wrong, but I thought that sort of slang didn't really come into existence until the 1990's, if not a wee bit later. I didn't look it up, though, so maybe it's just one of those things that sounds anachronistic without being so.
Then a reporter, with his upper-class accent, asks someone "Who dat?" Come on, really? Somehow I just can't hear some upper-class British guy living in 1941 asking that.
Jews were "being pooled at the bottom of France"
"sand was dribbling out of the bag of her attention, faster and faster"
also, the afternoon and late afternoon sang a couple times
One part of the book that caught my interest: when Frankie travels into Berlin, then through to France to witness and record the plight of European Jews. There is still the issue of the over-writing, the overuse of similes and all that, but the story and characters take an interesting enough turn to make that crap recede somewhat into the background.
I suppose a glowing review from People
magazine should have clued me in, but I guess the story just sounded good enough. It certainly had potential.