The year is 1940, and President Roosevelt stands firm in his commitment to keep America out of the war. Europe is in the throes of the Nazi takeover, and London is suffering under the Blitz, yet life in America goes on as usual. In Sarah Blake’s brilliant 2010 novel “The Postmistress,” readers follow three women, two in small-town America and one reporting from embattled England, as their lives become entwined. The ordinary and the extraordinary territory Blake covers make for absorbing reading.
Iris James and Emma Fitch are residents of Franklin, Mass., a small town on the tip of Cape Cod where everyday life hasn’t changed much in years. Iris, a middle-aged spinster, is the town’s postmistress. She’s a proud civil servant who is facing new challenges. One involves a conflict with Harry, the town mechanic she fancies. Harry requests that she ‘deface government property’ by chopping off the top of the flagpole so he can better monitor the sea for the German U-boats he insists are infiltrating their waters.
Emma is a newcomer to Franklin, having just married Will Fitch, the town’s new doctor. Orphaned early in life, “the little bride,” as townspeople refer to her, dives into the care of their cottage and looks forward building a life and a family. Yet Will goes abroad to serve, and she is again alone. Townspeople question her actions when she develops a friendship with Otto, an unknown German who has moved to town.
Everyone in Franklin is drawn to their radios by the nightly dispatches from London of young American broadcaster, Frankie Bard. The ambitious woman had talked Edward R. Murrow into giving her a job at Columbia Broadcasting System’s London office. She strives to give “as heart-wrenching, as riveting, and as specific an account of the pain and the suffering of these people as anything [Americans] ever heard.”
Frankie’s growing awareness of the true nature of the Nazi plan and her desire to enlighten her countrymen about the conditions in Europe are a compelling story. Her broadcasts will put a chill down the spine of many a reader. Yet back in Franklin, drama is building to a crescendo as the town becomes affected by the events abroad.
With its history, its drama and its delightful characterizations, “The Postmistress” feels to me like a screenplay waiting to be written.
Read more from Betty Hafner at http://bettyhafner.com/.