Monday, February 22, 2010
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
The split second between what was and what is, the far reaching impact of action and inaction, and the heartbreaking consequences of knowing or not knowing how the story ends—these, together with an exploration of the nature of love and war, are the background for The Postmistress by Sarah Blake.
Notes and Quotes
Wm. B. Yeats:
And bombs were falling on Coventry, London, and Kent. Sleek metal pellets shaped like the blunt-tipped ends of pencils aimed down upon hedgerow and thatch. What was a hedgerow? Where was Coventry? In History and Geography, Hitler’s army marched upon the school maps of Europe, while next door in English, the voices recited from singsong memory—I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made. Bombers flew above the wattles, over an England filled with the songs of linnets and thrush.
She wanted to push it all back. No time, no town. Nothing but each other’s hands and the tempo of their tread. The sky seemed to bowl up and away, curving like a cat. It was a mild morning, as can sometimes happen, as though May had slid in quietly for this January day. There was no wind at all. They walked along, and under the silent morning sky, she imagined she could pull Time like taffy, stretching it longer and longer between her hands until the finest point had been reached, the point just before breaking, and she could live there. A point at the center of time with no going forward, no looking back. Clasped in this way, without speaking, walking into no discernible ending, she could almost believe they tread on time.
And tonight, walking home from the hospital in the dark, not paying attention to where he was going, he had suddenly realized he was guiding his way forward by the single small lights of cigarettes, the sign of other people moving, disembodied, through the dark toward him: people whose faces he couldn’t see, but whose voices he heard, whose footsteps passed by. And he had nearly burst out crying on the street. Those tiny red lights in the dark going forward and moving away, those single Lucky Strikes, that’s what it was to be human. We lived and died, all of us—lucky strikes. Single lights and voices in the dark.
Long ago, I believed that, given a choice, people would turn to good as they would to the light. I believed that reporting-honest, unflinching pictures of the truth—could be a beacon to lead us to demand that wrongs be righted, injustices punished, and the weak and the innocent cared for. I must have believed, when I started out, that the shoulder of public opinion could be put up against the door of public indifference and would, when given the proper direction, shove it wide with the power of wanting to stand on the side of angels. But I have covered far too many wars—reporting how they were seeded, nourished, and let sprout—to believe in angels anymore, or, for that matter, in a single beam of truth to shine into the dark. Every story—love or war—is a story about looking left when we should have been looking right.
There are many more passages marked in my copy of The Postmistress, but I leave their discovery to you as you weave together for yourself the lives of Emma Fitch, the fragile bride of a small town doctor; Frankie Bard, a fearless “radio gal;” and Iris James, the Postmistress.
A small question, but a question nevertheless: Why, when every other location was accurately named and located, did the author decide to create Franklin as the small town on the tip of Cape Cod? There is a Franklin, MA, but it is not on the Cape. Every time I read Franklin, my mind’s map had to do a quick zig zag from its actual location to the fictional location of The Postmistress. Not a major quibble—just a curiosity.
Rating: 4.5/5 (Fiction Scale)
Dedication: For Josh, always.
Epigraph: War happens to people, one by one. That is really all I have to say, and it seems to me I have been saying it forever. –Martha Gellhorn, The Face of War