Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Place We Knew Well

Title:  A Place We Knew Well
Author:  Susan Carol McCarthy
Publication Information:  Bantam. 2015. 272 pages.
ISBN:  080417654X / 978-0804176545

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "As I wheel right into Dad's driveway, a six-foot chain-link fence jumps up out of nowhere."

Favorite Quote:  "The old saying 'Be careful what you wish for' ought to be revised; it out to say instead: 'Be careful what you take for granted.'"

For thirteen days, the threat of nuclear war came close to being an actual, fought war. In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis, as it is now known, brought the threat of Russian nuclear forces as close to US soil as Cuba and brought US missiles Turkey, close to Russian soil. The Cold War heated up, as both sides appeared to be in a stand off. Would weapons be fired? Would anyone survive? Those around the country saw this happen on their television screens. Those in Florida watched it take place before their very eyes.

This is the history into which Susan Carol McCarthy sets the Avery family. Wes Avery, a veteran of World War II and the bombing of Hiroshima, understands the meaning behind the military movements and buildup. His wife Sarah is seemingly caught up in the civilian preparations of bomb shelters and emergency supplies but underneath is just overwhelmed by her own past and her life. Their daughter, Charlotte, a teenager, is torn between the high school years of friends, football games, and homecoming and the looming menace that suggests that the future she dreams of may never be. This is the human story of this book.

The book proceeds along both stories - the nonfiction story of the missile crisis and the fictional drama of the Avery family. Not having read too much set in the 1960s, I enjoy the historical element of the book. The book includes descriptions of some of the military maneuverings and actual events; it doesn't turn into a history book but definitely provides a lot of background.

Through the Avery family and the small town they live in, the author does a wonderful job of capturing the fears and emotions of the time and gives life to the history. Through the character of Emilio, the Cuban young man working for Wes, the book even brings in the other side of the human story of war. Emilio is a teenager like Charlotte and has witnessed atrocities in his homeland and been pulled away from friends and family for the sake of safety. Wes gives him a job, and his colleague Steve takes on the role of a father figure. Yet, Emilio fears for and longs for home and family.

The fictional story keeps pace with the history; it starts gradually, builds into a crisis I did not see coming and then ends rather calmly for all the buildup. The plot twist does surprise me and takes this a book beyond the historical fiction. It becomes a book about losses, sorrows, and a question. "How do you grieve a dream? And for how long?" The history is interesting, but it is this question that grounds the book. I feel sympathetic towards each of the characters - Wes, Sarah, Charlotte, Emilio and even Steve. I care about them.

A quiet, negotiated agreement ended the Cuban Missile Crisis, fortunately without a shot being fired. So, it is with the story of the Avery family. It starts slow, reaches a crisis, and just seems to fade. Perhaps, it is because the book ends on a note of the history rather than the personal story. I suppose I would prefer to end with the Avery family themselves rather than their presence at a place in history that they knew well.

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From the Desk of Susan Carol McCarthy...The Writing Process...

I guess my “writing process” is a holdover from when my two sons were young and my writing time was bookended by school drop offs and pickups. I was then, and still am, a morning person, which by default makes me a morning writer. These days, I brew strong coffee and attempt, by the end of the first cup, to have conquered the daily Sudoku in The LA Times. I carry my second cup to my desk and check emails, answering only those that can’t wait till the afternoon. Then I write, sometimes well, sometimes not, for three to four hours every day. What’s important—I know this from years of experiment and experience—is keeping my butt in the chair and my fingers moving on the keyboard till the good stuff shows up. Early or late, it eventually shows up. I break for lunch, always, and then edit afterward in the afternoon. I should probably cop to the fact that my morning process often begins the night before when, head on my pillow, I send a message to my subconscious about what I hope and need to accomplish writing-wise the next day, and I ask for any assistance available. More often than not, the answer is there when I wake up. I’m not always writing historical fiction, by the way. I also do a fair amount of commercial freelance writing, too. Gotta pay the bills between pub dates, you know? Alas.

Please share your thoughts & leave a comment. Susan McCarthy and I would love to "talk" to you.

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