Wednesday, January 20, 2010

You've Got Mail

Hello Flower!

Have you seen this book yet? The Postmistress? Pretty cover and a sort of Girl Power title don't you think? The Postmistress, a female, will be someone everyone in the town will have to deal with at some time, she will have authority over all things mail or will it turn out to be male? Hmmm... We shall see my floral chum.

The time is 1940-41 and the newly appointed Postmistress of Franklin, Cape Cod is 40 year old spinster Iris James. Iris sees herself as the very ethical bastion of order in a chaotic and disturbing world. Iris is not the only newcomer to this insulated and isolated town. There is also Emma Trask. An orphan, Emma is clinging to the hope that her marriage to Dr William Trask will bring her the family and sense of place and home that she has yearned for all her life.

Like most of the citizens in Franklin, Iris and Emma listen to the daily reports of Frankie Bard "somewhere in Europe" reporting on the war. A privileged child, the war is Frankie's schooling. She is living on adrenaline. Frankie's horrific reports seem to polarize the town. Just as it was all across the U.S. at that time, Franklin is divided into the people who are sure we will never enter the war and the people who expect U-boats to lining the beach any second. It is after one of Frankie's reports, this time about about an orphaned child, that Will Trask decides he must volunteer and he goes to London to join up.

As attractive as the characters are they are not the most original part of the novel. The characters are likeable, clearly drawn and viewed with out sentiment, but they are hardly new. Ultimately however that doesn't matter. What carries the day here is storytelling. The author, Sarah Blake, has done a wonderful job with the plot of Postmistress. It's a perfect balance of tantalizing soap opera and hard edge subtleties. There are secrets, confessions, moral choices, chance meetings and the minutia of everyday life set against the backdrop of a war a world away and a war outside the window. This novel is also about information; who has it, how they desimate it, who believes it and are we ever justified in not sharing it.

I had read Blake's earlier novel, Grange House and thought it was splendid. Grange is another historical novel this time set in Maine in the late 1800's. It's a coming of age story told with great attention to detail, atmosphere and suspence. Between  Grange House and The Postmisstress I think Blake is a novelist to watch and enjoy. And. Either of her novels would be excellent for book groups.


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