Three women on the eve of America’s involvement in World War II consider the volatile nature of truth in the face of tragedy.
Iris James is postmistress for the town of Franklin on the tip of Cape Cod. Everyone’s secrets pass through her hands, but Iris, a 40-year-old virgin, reveres the ethical standards her position confers, order imposed on the chaos. New to Franklin in September 1940 is Emma, young Dr. Will Fitch’s bride, an orphan who hopes that marriage and the close community will bring her the family she’s missed. While residents enjoy the quiet of fall on the Cape—everyone but Harry Vale, who perches on the upper floor of Town Hall looking out to sea for U-boats—they listen to the radio broadcasts of Frankie Bard, a pioneering female American journalist covering the Blitz in London. Her report about an orphaned boy prompts Will, reeling from the recent death of a patient during childbirth, to go to London and help the wounded in penance. Frankie briefly meets Will in a bomb shelter, where he makes a disturbing confession: He can’t return to his life on the Cape; the war and his usefulness during it have made him happy. Upper-crust Frankie is also exhilarated by the war, but as she and Will exit the shelter the next morning, she sees him hit and killed by a taxi. Frankie’s boss, Ed Murrow, sends her to the continent to interview Jewish refugees fleeing Germany; she also witnesses executions and realizes the enormity of the task ahead. Back on the Cape, Emma, heavily pregnant, doesn’t know what to make of Will’s disappearance. But Iris does; she confiscated the letter informing Emma of Will’s death. Then Frankie shows up, surprised that everyone thinks Will is still alive. The loose ends that plague every tale and the fractional nature of knowing are the central themes of this narrative, which plays with the idea of storytelling.
Quietly effective work from first novelist Blake.