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4.5 Stars: Telling a story through edges: the voice of WWII and women's lives
on November 30, 2009
In 1940, the lives of three women could not be more different as war rages in Europe. Iris James, postmistress of Franklin, Massachusetts, believes in order and details. She takes great pride in her work. All communications in the town come through her. The whole system works because of the neat efficient system and the trust. She keeps all the secrets of the residents, but one day, she breaks with everything she has ever believed, slipping a letter into her pocket. Emma Trask, wife of the town's doctor Will Fitch, listens to all the radio broadcasts from London with her husband. When a tragedy provokes a change in her husband and a determination to go over to Europe, Emma guards herself against the tides of war raging across a distant ocean. In London, Frankie Bard, works with Edward R. Murrow. Frankie listens to Murrow's story advice, yet her spirit chafes against the all the strictures and protocol imposed on her. Feisty, fearless and somewhat brash, she wants to get out the truth and stir her listeners to action. In 1941, Frankie rides the trains out of Germany, reporting on the war, listening to the voices of the so-called refugees. As she sees the war unfolding from a different perspective, her whole idea about the story itself changes.
In THE POSTMISTRESS, Sarah Blake looks at World War II through the eyes of three distinct women all connected through means of private and public media. In many ways, THE POSTMISTRESS itself follows Frankie's conception of a news story as story and herein lies the beauty of the novel. Sarah Blake's novel does not follow the traditional concepts of a novel. THE POSTMISTRESS tells the story of World War II through the edges, in the lives of the three women and the events of their lives, often events that even seem unrelated to the larger scene playing out in the world. Indeed, the emotional impact of the story builds as Frankie stops trying to tell the truth of the war and listens to the voices of those around her. The "truth" of the war often emerges in the edges, in those stories told and unspoken by the press and even the characters to some extent. Although Sarah Blake draws on the history and historical figures of the times, THE POSTMISTRESS is not a historical novel filled with date and details from the history books. The reader will not find all the horrific details of the Holocaust or the London Blitz and yet, in telling the story through the edges of war scene, THE POSTMISTRESS allows the reader's imagination to enter the story. With the copious amount of World War II history and fiction published, readers undoubtedly are more than familiar with the main story of the War, and yet, THE POSTMISTRESS brings a freshness to the story. For this reader, THE POSTMISTRESS, is one of the first to tell the story of the trains from a viewpoint that truly engages imagination and emotion in both the details of individuals, sometimes even the characters for whom only a name and place is known, who might have experienced the events. Like Frankie's approach to the story, less is sometimes more. Equally, the conflicts and struggles of Emma Fitch and Iris James bring a whole other emotional dimension and texture to the story.
THE POSTMISTRESS is a wonderful blend of popular women's fiction and literary fiction. The novel gains more emotional power and intellectual interest as it progresses. The first part reads more like light women's fiction as the author introduces the three women whose lives will touch one another's. Frankie's development, however, guides the heart of the story, developing the lens through which the richness of the other characters emerges. The beginning of the story actually gains more relevance and emotional depth in hindsight, as Frankie's less traditional concept of a news story begins to cast the novel itself within a different framework. THE POSTMISTRESS is a story of women's lives, of life, death and love during WWII, and by end, a story about the art of storytelling itself.