THE HOURS COUNT by Jillian Cantor


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Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, caught by the Cold War.

In her last novel, Cantor (Margot, 2013, etc.) imagined Anne Frank’s sister surviving the Holocaust and living in Philadelphia. Now she turns her attention to the Rosenbergs, who were executed in 1953 for conspiring to commit espionage. As she writes in her Author's Note, after reading about the case and the couple’s lives, Cantor became convinced they were victims of America’s vicious hunt for communists in the 1950s. Her view is represented by sheltered, lonely Millie Stein, the Rosenbergs’ neighbor in a Manhattan apartment house. Millie is married to Ed, a taciturn Russian immigrant who barely acknowledges her existence, except for sex, and who ignores their autistic son, David. Millie is devoted to the boy, guilt-ridden when the family doctor insists she's caused his behavior by her coldness. Isolated with David, starved for affection, it’s no wonder she falls for warm, handsome Jake, who befriends her at a gathering hosted by the Rosenbergs. He tells her he's a psychotherapist with experience helping children like David, and Millie agrees to meet him, with David, twice a week. Although Ethel warns her not to trust him, and although Millie repeatedly suspects that he's lying, she fantasizes about running off with him, leaving her boorish, elusive, and secretive husband. In a rare gesture of independence, she agrees to a tryst at a cabin in the Catskills and, after one night of chastely described sex (buttons are slowly undone), finds that she's pregnant. Millie’s naiveté about politics is barely believable, and when the Rosenbergs are accused of being traitors, she knows in her heart that they're innocent: Ethel is such a good mother; Julius, such a loving husband.

Plot twists tease the reader into wondering who's telling the truth, who's working for the KGB or the FBI, but despite its historical context, the book reads like a predictable, although engaging, love story.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-59463-318-8
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2015


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