The Care and Management of Lies: A Novel of the Great War
By Jacqueline Winspear
Read July 2018
I read this while waiting for my turn for the library’s copy of Winspear’s newest Massie Dobbs novel. This is the only book in her canon that isn’t a Massie Dobbs novel but it satisfies similarly. Winspear writes engaging historical fiction providing interesting characters, many details of life in that time, and a story in which the characters struggle with issues confronting people in that time. The Massie Dobbs novels start with Massie post-WWI although the impact of WWI or WWII is usually felt by both Massie and other characters in each book. In this novel Winspear dives directly into the lives of people dealing with the early onset of the “Great War”, in particular the pressure felt by all to either enlist or “do something” for the war effort and the resulting consequences.
Taking leave of Massie Dobbs, Winspear was able to create 4 new characters of whom we learn about their thoughts, dreams, concerns, and fears: Thea and Tom Brissenden, siblings who have known Kezia Marchant since Kezia and Thea (then Dorritt) were scholarship classmates at a girl’s boarding prep school, well before Tom and Kezia marry, and Edmund Hawkes, current generation owner of an estate from which Tom’s father obtained their farm through a wager with Edmund’s father. Each of these characters is simultaneously strong and self-doubting. Kezia and Tom write regularly to each other once Tom enlists and take care in their letters to manage some lies of incomplete truths to enable their beloved to carry on through the trials they are facing. Winspear was unburdened from resolving a mystery that Massie and her team must solve so she was free to bring her story to an appropriate close that is true to each character and the time in which they lived.
I advocate for Winspear to continue writing non-Massie Dobbs books so we can experience other aspects of modern English history through her well-constructed and well-rounded characters. I appreciate that Winspear is productive but not overly prolific—her production pace allows her to provide us rich details and context about the historical backdrop for her interesting stories and avoid being formulaic. And of course I look forward to more works about Massie Dobbs…
By Bryn Chancellor
Read July 2018
Jess is a newcomer to a small town in Arizona, moving there with her newly divorced mother from Phoenix. They are both processing, in private, their loss of father/husband after he chose a younger woman and baby daughter issuing from that relationship instead of them.
Laura Drenna is a newcomer to the same small town in 2009, 18 years after Jess goes missing. She too is mourning the loss of her husband to another woman. While on one of her many walks to forget and think she finds the skeleton in a crevice. Is this the remains of Jess who went missing 18 years earlier?
Chancellor spins her story via two parallel paths.
One part of the weave is Jess’s story in in 1991—her loneliness as a new high school girl from the “big city” in a small town she didn’t choose, making one good friend who drops her for unknown reasons, making a second good friend, and beginning to find her way… for awhile… This story line is fairly straightforward and progresses through the year ending with the night she goes missing. The interesting element of this storyline is that the reader learns about what’s happening to Jess during the year and that final night, but the other characters are privy to very little of her life or thoughts and are not at all aware of what happens the final night of her life.
The other part of the weave consists of individual chapters focused on each of a dozen characters who play some role in Jess’s life including her mother, several friends, a couple of adults, and Laura who finds her. These chapters often includes their perspectives of the happenings in 1991 as well as revealing more about the character either before or since Jess goes missing or both. The form of each chapter is different. The chapter about the father of the friend is a letter he writes. The chapter about the mother of the friend, a professor of theater at the local college, is provided in the form of a script of a play. Through this set of chapters, an overall picture of the backdrop of Jess’s story in 1991 and what happens to these characters thereafter slowly evolves.
Chancellor’s approach provides an interesting approach to consideration of a not uncommon situation: an act by one causes pain to others, sometimes resulting in long-lasting damage that may never be undone.
Anything is Possible
By Elizabeth Strout
Read June 2018
I keep reading Elizabeth Strout for the same reason her other readers do. She provides us characters who have survived difficult to dreadful family situations as children or as adults and who become or remain real people who are living real lives and trying to make the best of it. She writes beautifully. We believe her characters could be real—people really go through these trials and people really survive them although usually not fully intact—which is true for her characters.
Strout enjoys the format of short stories that have some connection with each other and through those connections we more deeply learn about the various characters she’s chosen to consider in this particular work without being told too directly. Her previous novel, My Name is Lucy Barton, touched on some of these characters (she didn’t need to do this and in some ways the “gossip” the mother conveys about these characters is almost distracting in that book) and her readers aren’t surprised this novel follows so she can more deeply consider their stories. Strout directly brings Lucy Barton back to her home town for one of the stories of this book while exploring more about her siblings and neighbors in other stories.
Strout’s stories are heavy. Her characters are sad and struggling. But we read them because they are well written and her characters are believable. Strout gives us a little relief in the final story in which one “mature” (over 60) character strongly confronts another “mature” character. In the final sentence of the story we do believe Strout’s character when he decides” Anything was possible for anyone.”