08 April 2012

Degrees of separation

"This little bit of the world" got a little smaller this winter. Jeanette Hohman died at age 92. It's not just that this little bit of the world is already small enough, it's also that Jeanette was a remarkable and interesting woman. I say that even though I just barely knew her and met her only twice, I think.

When I stopped publishing Reading on paper, Jeanette was one of the people for whom I printed out web pages. She was the person who, last fall, asked me why I seemed to read only mysteries. Then she suggested The Postmistress by Sarah Blake.

When I was last at the Northfield Library, I found Blake's book in the fiction section and remembered the title. Now I've read it. And I wish I could call Jeanette and talk about it.

In many ways it's a well-written book. But...

There's a good short story at the beginning of the book that would be great if you added in some of the characterization that shows up at the end of the book. It's about finding adulthood and confidence of self. It's a tragedy, but one that raises important questions.

There's another short story in the middle of the book about a reporter trying to make sense out of a randomly cruel and deadly European world in 1940. The fact that the young woman is an American, acting with American impulses and assumptions makes it more tragic.

There are a couple of unfinished short stories in the book as well, but like the American reporter who seem unable to find the end of the stories she reports on, Sarah Blake seems unable to finish the stories. One of them is about childhood and loss while another is about seeking the future and death.

There's an ingenious plot device in the middle of the book which appears to tie the early short story to the incomplete short story about the reporter in Europe, but Blake abandons the device and portrays her character staring out to sea from the town on the end of Cape Cod. This from a young woman who is quoted as saying, "'Whatever is coming does not just come... It's helped by people willfully looking away. People who develop the habit of swallowing lies rather than the truth. The minute you start thinking something else, then you've stopped paying attention -- and paying attention is all we've got.'"

Maybe I was supposed to see the unfinished stories and the unused plot links as part of what Sarah Blake was writing about. Maybe I was paying attention to the wrong things. But, I am too dense to recognize Blake's topic. Maybe Jeanette knew.

It seems to me that this is almost a novel. But when I finished, I wondered what it was about.

Oh, and the title? The postmaster in that small town at the end of Cape Cod wondered what effect she could have on her community if she simply didn't deliver some of the mail. It turns out it wasn't her, but the visiting reporter, trying to recover from her war time experiences, who refused to deliver some mail. But, in the end, it didn't matter.

Have you read The Postmistress? What did you think it was about? Do you think Blake had a message? Or was she just telling incomplete stories? Come on. Write and tell this little bit of the world about your reactions. (And recruit a new reader to this little bit of the world.)

1 comment:

Beth Stilborn said...

You have me intrigued. I've checked and our public library has the book, so I'll get it tomorrow.

I'm grateful to my friend in Minnesota who let me know about your blog.

I'll get back to you when I've read the book (and yes, I've subscribed by email.)