The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Blake, Sarah. The Postmistress. New York: Amy Einhorn Books. 2010

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

(Note: books are rated from one to five smiley faces, one being a book I didn’t like very much, and five being a book I loved.)

I discovered Sarah Blake back in 1999, the first year I ever went to Bar Harbor, ME. I found her book Grange House in a local bookstore up there in its “Maine” section. I wrote it down, came home (which was Connecticut back in those days), and checked it out of my library. I ate, slept, and drank that book and have, literally, been waiting for her to write another one ever since, so I was completely surprised that I was unaware of this book until I walked into PVPL one day and discovered it on the new book shelf. “Sarah Blake has written another book!” I practically yelled all over the library.

Now that I’ve read it, I can say it was well worth the wait and every bit as engrossing as Grange House was for me, although this book was very, very different. That doesn’t seem to have mattered (which often it does for me when an author writes a second novel that in no way, shape, or form resembles the first). Quite obviously, I have just “clicked” with Blake as a writer.

Here, she gave us three very different characters, but she pulled off each one beautifully, and, ultimately, she led us to discover what each one had in common. I especially loved Frankie, the tough radio reporter who was not so tough underneath it all and who was so desperate to get Americans to wake up and to take notice of the horrors in Europe before this country got involved in WWII. She has such heart and feeling, such a purpose in life.

Of course, no sooner have I written that than I find myself feeling that I’m being unfair to Emma, the brave young wife, new to this Cape Cod town where her husband has brought her. It’s a town that has always judged her husband for his father’s sins, but she doesn’t know that and soldiers on with great hope masquerading her despair while writing letters to that husband who has left to go to London to lend his skills as a doctor in the war effort. She writes those letters and eagerly checks her mailbox, all the while carrying his unborn child who may never know the husband she begs to “come home.”

And if I write only about Frankie and Emma, what an injustice I am doing to poor Iris! She, too, is a relative newcomer to this Cape Cod town (in New England, as in most of “small town America,” that means always being an “outsider” while being judged, if differently, no less harshly than anyone else in town). She’s “The Postmistress” of the title and very much as full of heart and feeling as the other two women, faced with making gut wrenching decisions.

And that’s the genius of Sarah Blake: she gives me characters I can know and love. I’m right there with them as they sit on trains trying to document the horror that was the Holocaust; as they walk hopefully and fearfully to the post office every day, half excited to receive letters, half dreading to receive telegrams; as they sort the mail, keenly attuned to all that is going on around them. Perhaps Blake doesn’t always get her male characters just so (I’m not sure, as they are not really the focus), but she does such a superb job with the females that it doesn’t really matter.

I hope it doesn’t take her another 10+ years to get her next book out here.  But if it does, I’ll be waiting…