A young, privileged couple swap their comfortable existence in early-20th-century Massachusetts for Illinois farming country in this debut historical novel.
It is 1913, and Ken Adams is just about to graduate from college. Tall, athletic, and smart, he lives in Waltham, Massachusetts, and is the grandson of Owen Adams, a local business tycoon and founder of the Adams Group, a conglomerate of ventures “devoted to exploiting new inventions.” The family thinks that Ken is primed to join the business, but he is keen to make his way independently. He is introduced to Louise Converse and is immediately smitten. When Stephen, Louise’s uncle, suggests a new life for Ken working in a bank servicing the farming community in Bloomington, Illinois, the couple seize the opportunity, marry, and travel west. The story details how Ken and Louise establish themselves in rural Illinois and start a family of their own—two boys, David and Gregory, and a girl, Catherine, who, growing older, seek their own independence. The tale is loosely tacked to a historical backdrop: The Adams family faces two world wars and the Depression. But the novel never offers enough historical details to immerse the audience in another time period. There are some beautifully nostalgic scenes that pin the narrative to early-20th-century America, such as the vignette of the milkman going about his rounds at the story’s opening: “Nicholas, the milkman, came down the street, stopping at nearly every home to leave milk in the metal boxes on front porches and retrieve empty bottles. The old horse that pulled the wagon knew every step of the route.” Yet, despite Brown’s obvious talent for descriptive writing, such passages are all too few, and on occasion the tale feels as if it could have been set at any time in modern history due to the setting being insufficiently depicted. But while the storyline may not be gripping or complex—this for the most part is a tale of everyday life—it succeeds in capturing the strengths of familial bonds, particularly those between fathers and sons. The book is absorbing but ultimately offers few surprises within the generic context of an American small-town drama set in the 20th century.
A well-crafted family tale that fails to fully transport readers to another era.