This book begins with an attention-grabbing scene in which young single mom and widow Audra Hughes is trying to board an airplane with her 7-year-old son Jack to go to a job interview. The situation quickly gets out of hand, and Audra is forced to cancel her trip. But she ends up embarking on a different journey, one that is gripping and intelligently conceived.
The story switches back and forth between Audra’s story in 2012 and that of Vivian James in 1939. Vivian is the rather sheltered daughter of an American diplomat in Britain as World War II is about to break out. How the two stories are related to each other is revealed in a very clever way. On a structural level, cliffhangers and segues at the end of each chapter in one time period lead into the action at the beginning of the next chapter but in the other time period. This creates an emergent phenomenon, to borrow the language of science, causing you to get a sense of how the stories are tied together without explicit exposition by the author.
Substantively, the stories are also tied together, in ways quite complicated that also become more clear as the plot develops. We glimpse the key to their connection at the very beginning, because one of the aftermaths of the airplane fiasco is that little Jack starts exhibiting disturbing symptoms of traumatic stress. He has night terrors and is drawing rather bizarre violent images at school. It doesn’t seem to be a delayed reaction to his father’s death two years earlier, because oddly, his dreams and images are about World War II. Audra is at her wits end, and her late husband’s parents suspect that something is wrong with Audra’s parenting.
As the mystery unfolds, we are kept at the edge of our seats, until the threads finally come together. A bit thrillingly for me as a reader, we end up knowing (most of) what really happened at the end, although none of the characters know the whole story. (I love that: not only do I get the story tied up, but I even know what they don’t know!)
Discussion: There is some lovely writing in this story:
“The setting sun cast London’s skyline in silhouette. Orange rays poured liquid ribbons over the Thames, guiding a flock of boats downstream.”
“The summer had heated to a boil. On September 1, Hitler waltzed into Poland with the confidence of Fred Astaire.”
There are also interesting meditations on epistemology. Audra favors a scientific approach to phenomena, and yet, “she had learned there was more to our world than what any of us could see or fully comprehend.” This book is guaranteed to engender many lively discussions in book clubs!
Evaluation: This winning book is as much of a page-turner as a crime novel, and yet it is not a dark or scary book; in fact, I would probably characterize it as more of a story about love; love that transcends time and space. But all of the characters have to learn that real love is as much about forgiveness as about the “dizzying, volatile whirlwind” that initially brings two people together. Highly recommended!
Published by Kensington Books, 2013