four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
46-May-June-2010
By: 
Sarah Blake
user_rating: 
0

A-The PostmistressSarah Blake's debut novel, Grange House (2001), is a Victorian-style gothic novel set on the windswept coast of Maine at the turn of the last century. The Postmistress is her second novel.

The Story: In the autumn of 1940, Frankie Bard, a beautiful New York socialite working as a radio journalist in London, travels to continental Europe to give an eyewitness account of the Nazis' atrocities. She returns home, exhausted and disillusioned, when her coverage fails to persuade her countrymen to join the war. Meanwhile, in the small Cape Cod town of Franklin, the local postmistress, middle-aged spinster Iris James, and Dr. Fitch's new wife, Emma, faithfully follow Frankie's broadcasts. When Frankie arrives in Franklin to deliver a letter entrusted to her by a man in a bomb shelter during an attack, these three lives collide--and none of them emerge unscathed.
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam. 326 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780399156199

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"There's both exquisite pain and pleasure to be found in these pages, which jump from the mass devastation in Europe to the intimate heartaches of an American small town. ... The ending is a bit of a miss." Karen Valby

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Classified by some as a ‘romantic novel,' Sarah Blake's The Postmistress undoubtedly rises to the more prestigious category of literary historical fiction. ... In the end, it is to Frankie Bard that the story belongs." Katherine Bailey

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The real strength of The Postmistress lies in its ability to strip away readers' defenses against stories of wartime uncertainty and infuse that chaos with wrenching immediacy and terror. ... Ms. Blake knows how to deliver tragic turns of fate with maximum impact." Janet Maslin

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"[Handwritten letters] are the primary means of communication during the World War II era in which Sarah Blake sets her splendid novel about the power of words to change people and the world. The Postmistress possesses the sentimental quaintness of the 2008 hit The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but its spark comes from its enduring message about the need for humanity to step up and fight anyone and anything that threatens our fragile moral code." Carol Memmott

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The attempt to increase the drama with fears that London will fall or the Germans will invade the United States aren't necessary; there is so much real tension in other parts of the narrative. ... It is, perhaps, the middle third of The Postmistress that is most poignant and authentic and, I believe, gets at the heart of Blake's intention for this novel: the idea that Americans were not paying attention between 1933 and 1941." Chris Bohjalian

Christian Science Monitor 3 of 5 Stars
"It's clear that Blake has done her research and book groups will enjoy its sincerity and competent prose. But the dialogue lacks snap, a major character's death is manipulative rather than tragic--Blake even alters history to try to give it punch--and she engages in expository overload that's really not needed for such a well-known tale." Yvonne Zipp

Critical Summary

In her latest novel, Blake gives a striking account of America on the verge of war and Europe in the midst of it and describes the horrors of Nazi Germany and the claustrophobia of small-town, mid-century America with equal aplomb. Despite some implausible plot developments, Blake maintains the story's credibility with powerful writing and a skillful manipulation of readers' sensibilities. Although critics cited an awkward beginning, some expository excesses, and a tendency to overdramatize, they all agreed that the novel truly soars during Frankie's perilous journey across Europe. The Christian Science Monitor expressed concerns that the novel will be lost in the glut of recent World War II fiction, but overall, The Postmistress is a moving page-turner from a talented writer.

Cited by the Critics

The Help | Kathryn Stockett (2009): In 1962, privileged Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan has just finished college and returned home to Jackson, Mississippi. A budding writer, she starts to record the heartbreaking and inspiring stories of the women around her--the African American maids working in nearly every well-to-do white household--and puts herself and her new friends at risk. ( 4 of 5 Stars Selection Jan/Feb 2010)