A carefully crafted first novel about doomed lovers in 1930s Minnesota.
Isobel, a hatmaker, marries a tailor, Victor Howard, and their little shop prospers, even during the Great Depression. Victor is coarse but cheerful, unlike his introverted wife, who cares patiently for their three children and dreams of trying her hand at millinery again. But who would buy beautiful hats in the small town of Cypress? No one, she’s sure—until glamorous Cathryn Malley from Chicago sweeps through the shop’s door. Isobel and Cathryn become friends, even though the shy hatmaker remains in awe of her loquacious—and lonely—new friend. Cathryn’s husband, Liam Malley, is a mining engineer who’s away for weeks on end, traveling through Minnesota’s bleak Iron Range, and Isobel’s husband happens to be away as well, vacationing with their children on a tiny lake island he bought for a song. On their own for the summer, the women confide in each other and make hats according to Cathryn’s whims and big-city notions of style. Until, that is, Cathryn falls for the singular charms of Jack Reese, a forest ranger and brooding romantic with a getaway island of his own. Their passionate affair both fascinates and troubles Isobel, who frequently helps them, serving as go-between or allaying Liam Malley’s inevitable suspicions, keeping her silence even when Liam explains that Cathryn is mentally unstable and suicidal. And then the lovers vanish after a forest fire burns Jack’s cabin to the ground, and no bodies are ever found. Did Liam kill his wayward wife and her paramour? Or did Jack hurt Cathryn somehow, as his last letter seemed to imply? Did they simply run away? Throughout the many ensuing years, Isobel hopes against hope that her flamboyant friend is happy somewhere, until finally, on her deathbed, a recurring dream reveals the truth at last, confirmed by her grown son.
Old-fashioned and earnest, with a gentle touch that’s appealing.