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Those unfamiliar with Stubbs' glowingly warm previous efforts--a quartet of historicals set in 19th-century Lancashire--may flinch when they take in the setup of her latest, a novel about a motherless gift who cries over Jane Eyre and yearns to be a concert pianist; but they should read on, for Stubbs doesn't settle for romantic clichÉs. Instead, she creates a wonderfully rounded tale of a fractured family that endures familiar, nonetheless touching heartaches and the uncertainties of the world at war. Blackstone, England, an industrial town in the North patterned after Manchester, is where Evelyn Fawley grows up and goes to school. Her widowed father, a headmaster and benevolent despot, remarries suddenly, forcing Evelyn to adjust to a new mother, the blowzy Dolly Schofield, and her son, Michael. Fortunately, Evelyn and Michael become fast friends, fellow companions in hikes up Tarn How, where they plot their futures and commiserate while in the world at large trouble brews. Erie's father follows Hitler's aggressions on a mastermap of Europe; Doily complains, ""I'm trying to find my gloves. Czechoslovakia is thousands of miles away. . .""; Michael fails at school, then joins the RAF; and Erie graduates from Bronte to D.H. Lawrence. She's rescued from a disastrous affair with a married man by Michael, home on leave; but Michael does not come home again. Instead, his copilot, Dickie Blythe, returns with the story of Michael's heroic demise, then courts Evie gently--so gently that she's amazed to suddenly find herself in love, waiting for the war to end and for Dickie to come marching home. Stubbs' characters, at once fine and flawed, have the touch of life, and her portrait of how they manage through the war is subtly ennobling.

Pub Date: Sept. 25th, 1987
Publisher: St. Martin's