Sunday, February 21, 2010
Title: The Postmistress
Author: Sarah Blake
Source: Jill at Book, Books Everywhere via the Borrow My ARC Tour hosted by Katrina at Bloody Bad
Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge
First Sentence: "There were years after it happened, after I'd returned from the town and come back here to the busy blank of the city, when some comment would be tossed off about the Second World War and how it had gone -- some idiotic remark about clairty and purpose -- and I'd resist the urge to stub out my cigarette and bring the dinner party to a satisfying halt."
Summary (From the book flap):
It is 1940. While war is raging in Europe, in the United States President Roosevelt promises he won't send American boys over to fight.
Iris James is the postmistress of Franklin, Massachusettes, a small town on Cape Cod. Iris knows a lot more about the townspeople than she will ever say. She knows that Emma Trask has come to marry the town's young doctor. She knows that Harry Vale, the town's mechanic, inspects the ocean from the tower of the town hall, searching in vain for German U-boats he is certain will come. Iris firmly believes that her job is to deliver and keep people's secrets, to pass along the news of love and sorrow that letters carry. Yet one day Iris does the unthinkable: she slips a letter into her pocket. And then she does something even worse -- she reads the letter, then doesn't deliver it.
Meanwhile, seemingly fearless American radio gal Frankie Bard is working with Edward R. Murrow, reporting from the Blitz in London. Frankie's radio dispatches crinkle across the Atlantic, imploring listeners to pay attention to what is going on as the Nazis bomb London nightly. Then, in the last, desperate days of the summer of 1941, Frankie rides the trains out of Germany and reports what is happening. But while most of the townspeople of Franklin are convinced that the war "overseas" can't touch them, Iris and Emma -- unable to tear themselves away from Frankie's voice -- know better.
Alternating between an America on the eve of entering World War II, still safe and snug in its inability to grasp the danger at hand, and a Europe being torn apart by war, the two stories collide in a letter, bringing the war finally home to Franklin.
My Two Cents:
I have to say that I was insanely excited for this book. After reading all the positive reviews and all the people just waiting for it to be published, I thought I was going to be blown away. That excitement could have tempered my enjoyment of the book, but I don't think so.
Blake is a great writer. Her prose is smooth and fluid and lyrical. This book was a really easy read from that standpoint; I never had to go back and try to figure out what she was saying.
She's also great at writing characters. I absolutely loved Frankie and wanted to meet her in real life. I thought Blake did a pretty fair job of portraying the life and mentality of a reporter, even if Frankie was a little too "hard" for my sensibilities. She just tried too hard to distance herself from the story and to just "get the facts," but good reporting is more than that. But I digress.
I really didn't like Iris. At all. I thought I would at first, but something about her just hit the wrong nerve with me. I think she was a little too prim and know-it-all-ish, and that kind of turned me off from liking her.
I thought the story had a lot of potential. It was shaping up to be great, through the first half, and I was really liking the book a lot. But the second half of the book really, really fell flat for me. Frankie changed far too much and far too rapidly, and we really didn't see why she changed. Sure, we saw why she decided she wanted to start riding the trains, and we saw some of her train-riding. But there was a lot that was left out, and I think the book suffered for that. Frankie returns to the United States far too broken for it to be explained simply by the scenes we see in the book. Do we see some pretty catastrophic things? Yes, but we don't see enough of them. I think we spent far too much time building up to the real events of the book that the life-changing things were too rushed.
For example, I would have liked to see a lot more of Frankie talking to people on the trains. I know she was haunted by the people she talked to because of a couple of things that happened on the first leg of her journey, but she had 15 other discs to fill. There had to be some more heartbreaking stories in there that we never saw.
Maybe I just really like to hear all the tragic stories that come out of World War II and the Holocaust, so that's changing my view of the book. I just thought there was a lot more that could have been said and done.