Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Sold on a Monday

Title:  Sold on a Monday
Publication Information:  Sourcebooks. 2018. 352 pages.
ISBN:  1492663999 / 978-1492663997
Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Outside the guarded entrance, reporters circled like a pack of wolves."

Favorite Quote:  "Even when life's downright lousy, most kids are still so resilient because ... well, I guess 'cause they don't know any different. It's like they only realize how unfair their lives are if you tell them. And even then, all they need is the smallest amount of hope and they could do just about anything they set their minds to..."

On August 5, 1948, The Vidette-Messanger published a tragic image - four children on the front steps of a home with a sign that read, "4 children for sale. Inquire within." The image, as expected, created quite a stir at the time of publication, both for the dire straits of the family depicted and for suspicions that the image had been staged by the reporter.

Much research has been done, and many articles have been written about the family pictured and about the eventual outcomes for the children. It is a truly sad history, and one that I would likely never have known except for this fictional story.

Kristina McMorris has taken inspiration from this history and created a fiction about a similar image - this one picturing two young children and a similar sign. The book description sets up three main characters - the mother, the reporter Ellis Reed who takes the photograph, and Lilian Palmer, another employee at the newspaper. It asks the question of "how much [the reporters] are willing to risk to mend a fractured family."

In the telling, this book really becomes the story of Ellis Reed and Lilian Palmer. Both have circumstances in their lives that make the impact of this photograph intensely personal. Both are in the newspaper industry, hoping to get a break in their careers. Both also deal somewhat with the ethical implications of the decisions made regarding the photograph and the subsequent news story. A totally unnecessary romantic element to the story is also introduced.

The plot then turns to bring in the fate of the children photographed and of their mother. That introduces new characters and new back stories. This plot also adds elements of intrigue, more in line with a mystery or detective story. The story of what happens to the children could probably make an entire separate book. In this one, it overshadows both the historical context of the book and the ethical questions posed by Ellis Reed's decision.

For me, what is missing is the emotional and historical story behind such an image. What drives parents to that sense of desperation? This is briefly touched upon, but the character of the children's mother never fully develops. The economic and political history that led to the actual image is not explored in this book at all. In other words, this book uses a snippet of history but does not build on that. It is rather more a detective type story built on an old headline.

For me, what is also missing is a deeper look at the ethical and moral implications of Ellis Reed's decisions regarding the photograph. Yes, he tries to make things right, but does that undo the original decision? What are the consequences? What should be the consequences? In this day and age of attacks on press integrity and difficulty distinguishing real news and quasi-news sensationalist sources, that conversation is too important to not address. This story speaks to his guilty conscience but not the broader reaction to his choices. So, at the end, this book is an interesting story but one that leaves a lot of potential unexplored.

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

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