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The Reason for Time Paperback – March 16, 2016
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"Burns plunges the reader into the world of Chicago in 1919. Her flawless use of Irish brogue in Maeve's first-person voice pulls us ever deeper into the events...An amazing tale from a master of her craft." (Editors' Choice selection)--Historical Novels Review
"An engaging work of historical fiction" --Foreword Reviews
"...the real strength of the book is in the consistent and believable voice of the young Maeve..."
From the Inside Flap
"Whole minutes passed when I didn't think of my man and the swimming lesson set up for the next day, if no one was murdered before then, or the cars stopped, or a bomb go off somewhere]]" On a hot, humid Monday afternoon in July 1919, Maeve Curragh watches as a blimp plunges from the sky and smashes into a downtown Chicago bank building. It is the first of ten extraordinary days in Chicago history that will forever change the course of her life. Racial tensions mount as soldiers return from the battlefields of Europe and the Great Migration brings new faces to the city, culminating in violent race riots. Each day the young Irish immigrant, a catalogue order clerk for the Chicago Magic Company, devours the news of a metropolis where cultural pressures are every bit as febrile as the weather. But her interest in the headlines wanes when she catches the eye of a charming streetcar conductor. Maeve's singular voice captures the spirit of a young woman living through one of Chicago's most turbulent periods. Seamlessly blending fact with fiction, Mary Burns weaves an evocative tale of how an ordinary life can become inextricably linked with history.
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It is a fairly fast moving story that is easy to read as you follow Maeve’s journey through the city. You get a sense of the sights and smells and the tensions of this vigorous, “city of big shoulders.” Allium’s motto is “rescuing Chicago from Capone… one book at a time” and this series paints a picture of an earlier period than the days of gangsters. It is one of a number of books by the press that cover Chicago architecture in the 1880’s (Honor Above All), progressive politics of Hull House and other groups in the 1890’s (Death at Hull House, Her Mother’s Secret) and the lives of early Chicagoans in the first couple of decades of the twentieth century (Beautiful Dreamer, The Reason for Time). Chicago is a quintessential American city with many people in its past who deserve to be remembered. This is one of the books that succeeds in conjuring up one of those earlier times.
With the historical aspect in mind, the book did startle me at the beginning, as it starts out with an author’s note about language used in the book. This was disturbing, and it made me hesitant to read this book. I appreciate the author’s note at the beginning, and it was necessary, as there is offensive language in the book.
In terms of the plot and characters, the book is told from the point of view of Maeve Curragh, age twenty, as she works at The Chicago Magic Company, and lives her life. Maeve is more of an onlooker of the action. She never gets involved with the riots, or the turmoil of the city. She meets a conductor, Desmond Malloy, and falls in love, and most of this book was Maeve wandering around thinking about the city and Desmond. Maeve was a different character for a book in that she was completely ordinary. There is nothing really that sets Maeve apart from anyone you would meet in your day-to-day life. She’s perfectly nice, and goes about her business and tries to get her work done, and the problem with her being so ordinary is that it is boring. Maeve had no spark, no drive, no zest for life. So, I really had difficulty connecting to her, as she didn’t really have any personality. In one way, it was refreshing to read a main character that wasn’t too funny, or too smart, or too pretty, or too rich, or too outspoken. But in another way, it was also too bland, as she was just so ordinary. And ordinary isn’t bad, but it isn’t exciting, either.
Told in first person, from Maeve’s point of view, you really are in Maeve’s head and hear her speak, and the rhythm of Maeve’s narration took a bit for me to get used to. Once I got a few pages into the book, I was able to pick up the speech patterns easier, but every time I’d set the book down and then go back to it, I’d have to reacquaint myself to the speech and it would take me a bit to get into the flow of being in Maeve’s head.
The setting of 1919 Chicago was very well done. I honestly felt like I was right there wandering the streets of Chicago with Maeve, and feeling the heat of that summer sun, and smelling the smells of the city. The atmosphere was very well written, and there’s a scene towards the end of the book where Maeve walks an extremely long way in too-tight shoes that made me so thankful for tennis shoes!
I do think that this book could’ve been edited down a bit more. Some sections dragged, and the ending felt a bit rushed compared to the beginning of the book. There was also more of a focus on romance than I expected going in to this read.
All in all, I’m glad that I read this book as it informed me about Chicago’s history, but while I’ll remember the setting of the book, I’m not so sure that I’ll remember Maeve.
**I voluntarily reviewed this book and received a copy from the publisher, Allium Press of Chicago. This review first posted on my blog, luvtoread.
Most recent customer reviews
Mary Burns’ “The Reason For Time” was a page turner. A study of character. A historical novel.Read more