When her fiance is drafted to serve in World War I, a young woman accepts a teaching position in Michigan, where she winds up fighting a different enemy on the homefront.
Stone’s debut novel is both a fictional memoir and a biography, written to honor his grandmother Lucile Ball and the love she shared with Howard Bridgman, a mutual devotion that sustained them during the war. Born and raised on a farm outside Albion, Michigan, Lucile met Howard in 1915, when both were attending Albion College. By 1918, they were engaged, but had to put their plans on hold when Howard was drafted into the Army. While he was away, Lucile, together with her best friend, Vera Smith, accepted an offer from a Munising, Michigan, school to fill the teaching vacancies created by the draft. Lucile and Howard wrote to each other faithfully. The novel opens at summer’s end in 1918, with Lucile and Vera on their long train journey to Munising. They are housed in the town’s nicest hotel, and although Lucile worries about Howard constantly, she is invigorated by her first experience away from home—until October, when the global Spanish flu pandemic, which was devastating the troops in Europe, reaches Munising. Within days, the schools are closed, an emergency secondary hospital is opened, and Lucile and Vera become substitute nurses. Lucile is the primary narrator of Stone’s tale. Howard’s story is interspersed through insertion of his actual letters, discovered decades later by Lucile’s family. Well-crafted, graphic prose conveys the virulence of the swift-moving epidemic. Lucile describes one stricken woman: “Her skin was severely mottled, covered in a rash of deep purple blotches. Her lips were dry and cracked and had a blue cast to them, her eyelids too.” But a persistent misuse of the first-person singular pronoun becomes irksome (for example, “The Dotys dropped Vera and I off at the inn”). While Howard’s letters add context to the love story, the narrative is most compelling in its depiction of a terrified homefront battling a deadly disease.
A tender family tribute that adds domestic context to the usual Spanish flu narrative.