The Postmistress by Sarah Blake examines one year in the lives of three women who unexpectedly share an intertwined world in the early days of World War II. The story moves from Franklin, Massachusetts, on the tip of Cape Cod, to bomb-weary London in the year before Pearl Harbor.
Iris James, postmaster; Emma Fitch, the doctor's bride; and Frankie Bard, broadcast journalist, hold only one thing in common: Will Fitch. His agreement with Iris, his love for Emma, and his serendipitous connection with Frankie bring the three together, allowing them to find solidity at a moment when each life has been shattered.
In The Postmistress, Blake explores how people can appear to live in the same place and time and yet not share the same reality. Knowledge changes one's existence, thus those who know live in a different world side by side with their less-informed neighbors. At what point, if ever, do you share the facts, forever altering another's memories?
A second strong theme is the idea of fate. Some, like Emma, struggle with the concept:
Life seemed to her like a city hotel with many floors. She did not like to think of all the hallways she'd never seen, nor all the hallways that she might have walked along if she had gotten off at a different floor. She didn't like to think that there was more than one hallway than the one she was in--one in which she hadn't met Will. (pp. 68-69)Others, like Will, accept it:
"And one day, I got it. I lifted my head from the child's chest I was listening to and realized, with a shock of relief: whatever is coming, comes. That's what holds it all together. We are all of us here in the mess. There's no way around it." (p. 159)Additional threads include the nature of broadcast journalism, attitudes about the war before December 1941, and whether love is ever enough. This multilayered novel is a recommended choice for book clubs.
Note that the book is not without a few flaws. The frame story of The Postmistress does not come full circle, which was a bit of a disappointment, although it did not detract from the core of the novel. At least one event near the end came suddenly and had little followup, which leaves the reader wondering whether it added to the story.
These are, however, minor issues. The writing is beautiful, the characters are approachable, and the story will stick with you.
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Published by Putnam/Amy Einhorn, 2010
Challenges: New Author, What's in a Name, Historical Fiction, Amy Einhorn, 100+
Source: Review (see review policy)