Books -- reading and writing.
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And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Postmistress

THE POSTMISTRESS has a look about it that makes you want to pick it up and read it. Great cover!

I saw the recommendation by Kathryn Stockett, prominently displayed right there on front, hard to miss, and she's "telling everyone I know to read" this thought-provoking novel. I heard an interview with Sarah Blake on NPR. (Click on that link and you can read an excerpt from the book and listen to the interview). The story's set during World War II. Letters play an important role. Everything I love. Everything about it made me want to read The Postmistress.

So I guess my expectations were a tad too high. It was a good book, not a great one.

Iris James is postmaster of a small town on Cape Cod. From her window to the town, she observes the evolving world around her: a young doctor's wife struggling with her husband's decision, the stranger in town, the fear.

Then there's the parallel story of a young American war correspondent, a protegee of Edward R. Murrow. She broadcasts from London and eventually from a train car carrying refugees. The events unfolding around her make Frankie Bard re-examine so much of what she thought was true.

"This is how a war knocks down the regular, steady life we set up against the wolf at the door. Because the wolf is not hunger, it is accident- the horrible, fatal mistake of turning left to go to the nearer tube station, rather than right to take the long way around."

Sarah Blake takes a time in our history that we don't often read about- the run-up to the war-- and weaves the events into a mostly good story. Yes, there were times when the plot seemed contrived, but there's a lot to ponder and discuss after reading this novel. I see it becoming a huge Book Group selection.

But the thing I love- maybe even more than the occasionally formulaic and ponderous writing - is learning about the research the writer did. Transcripts of radio broadcasts, interviews with war journalists, a decade of Life Magazines, old movies. The book book her eight years to write.

At the end of the novel, Frankie admits she has bet her career on advice she was given when she started: "You told a story by letting the small things speak."

Great advice for any writer or journalist.

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