Tiernan (Standing on a Whale, 2014) blends historical anxieties with concerns universal to all of humanity in this literary romance.
While the looming threat of the Vietnam War weighs heavily on everyone in the small town of Lake Wales, Florida, Marley Cover feels the danger far differently than the men waiting nervously for draft notices. Knowing that she can’t be called up, she instead fears loneliness, imagining the years passing her by without a chance for love or family. Burdened by a painful past, she worries that she won’t be accepted or that she’ll be barred from the things she wants. When Marley meets Peter Rensen, a patient at the physical therapy clinic where she works, she’s not nearly as smitten as he seems to be. But as the pressure builds, she seizes his marriage proposal as a lifeline and accepts that she can find happiness with him, even without romance. But on her very wedding day, she meets Warren Long and immediately falls for him. With duty pressing all around her, Marley faces a true crisis of conscience, caught between the bonds of her integrity and the will of her heart. While the setting and plot on paper could easily be setting up a conventional romance, the novel takes on much greater challenges. Though the prose can be dry, it carries with it a sense of immediacy rather than being detached or Hemingway-esque. Indeed, more than romance or even loneliness, the story is about the weight that builds on people’s shoulders as they grow and move through the world. The claustrophobia of rushing into an opportunity for fear that another will never come is matched with the existential pain of realizing that it really is possible to hold out for something better. Through it all, there’s an immersive sense of place, as the engaging story demonstrates both a love for the comforts of bygone small-town America and a powerful understanding of its faults and limitations. And the era wraps around the narrative perfectly, with the events of one of the country’s most complex decades driving Marley forward. Whether she is lost or found, only time will tell.
An absorbing, heart-wrenching tale of love, belonging, and self-acceptance.