Title: The Postmistress
Author: Sarah Blake
Pages: 326 pages
Genre: Historical fiction; women's fiction
Publisher: Amy Einhorn (Putnam Sons/Penguin Group)
Release Date: February 9, 2010
Okay, the buzz for this book seemed to generate long before it came out. I read various reviews for this book; some loved this book, but some readers were disappointed. Turns out I may have chosen the wrong time to read this. I was on vacation, and though it seemed like I had plenty of reading time, the truth was I was constantly on the go. The tone of this book was heavy and just didn't go well with the mood I was in and the mini reading sessions I was able to squeeze in. My thoughts about this book are sort of confused; it was well written, I can see why some people liked it, but I just didn't care for it. And I can't quite figure out what would have made it better for me.
The Postmistress is about 3 women during the 1940's before Pearl Harbor or the U.S. entering the war. Frankie Bard is one of those exceptionally (especially for the time) independent and ambitious women. She decides to go to Europe to broadcast the war over the radio. She can't fathom knowing there is a war going on across the ocean and, yet, Americans are living their lives without a care in the world. Despite being unconventional for a woman, Frankie reports literally from the front line, bombs exploding overhead. The other two characters listen to Frankie from their radios in Massachusetts: Iris James is the town's new (and first female) postmaster. It's her job to process all the incoming and outgoing mail which in that day in time gives her an enormous responsibility. Emma Fitch is the wife of the town doctor, and she appears naive and quiet to the rest of the town. All three of these women will inextricably be connected by the end of the book.
Like I said, I can see why some people liked this book, but for me it was just 'eh'. First off, I felt a real disconnect from the characters. Some books make me feel like I know the characters, and this just made me feel like I was reading about them. Maybe this sense of disconnect was from my being "on the go" with little reading time? I'm not sure. It also didn't help that the overall mood of the book was depressing and heavy. I found little about it uplifting. I get that the point of the book was the irony in that atrocious events were happening in one part of the world while the other part of the world was living normal lives. But at times I felt like, for me, it was a little too preachy. I had difficulty finding any other themes in the book.
Two other things bothered me: I had difficulty understanding everything about the postmaster's job. There were lots of descriptions about using the "canceling machine" and whatnot, and I couldn't for the life of me picture it. The other thing was there were a few instances where the narrator would all of a sudden speak directly (in second person) to the reader. See, the very beginning of the book opens up with a woman talking to guests at a dinner party.. she asks a question that leads into the story of The Postmistress. This didn't work for me, though I liked the style at first, because it never returns to this scene. Even though she started the narration off, it wasn't obviously continued so when the narrative turned to second person I got so confused!
Now, it sounds like I had a lot of bad things to say about this book. I do feel torn saying anything bad because in some sense this book was powerful and important. There have been times when I've wondered how people could know of something awful happening on the other side of the world (especially during the holacaust) and live such normal lives without helping. (I do realize this kind of thing is happening all the time). The topic was important, and the author is a good writer. I just didn't find myself nearly as enthralled with this as I'd hoped to be.