“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.
From the acclaimed author of Secrets of a Charmed Life and A Bridge Across the Ocean comes a new novel set in Philadelphia during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, which tells the story of a family reborn through loss and love.
In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters–Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa–a chance at a better life.
But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without–and what they are willing to do about it.
As Bright as Heaven is the compelling story of a mother and her daughters who find themselves in a harsh world, not of their making, which will either crush their resolve to survive or purify it.
When we hear about the flu pandemic of 1918, we can be blown away by the number — as many as 50 million people died, many more than the number who died on the battlefields of World War I. In As Bright As Heaven, this unfathomable global catastrophe is made personal as we see the flu and its devastating impact through the experiences of one family. The Bright family, having already suffered the loss of an infant to a heart condition some months earlier, relocates to Philadelphia from the countryside so that the father can start a new career as partner and heir to his uncle’s funeral home business. For the mother Pauline and her three daughters, it’s a chance at a new life in a new city, moving away from the location of their recent heartbreak and starting over.
Between living in the family quarters of the funeral home, the continuing war in Europe, and then the onslaught of the flu, the family can’t escape death. Through the eyes of Pauline and each of the girls, we see the darkness of the time period as loss piles upon loss, with no rhyme or reason for who lives and who dies.
The story of the Spanish Flu pandemic is tragic and fascinating, but I found the individual characters and their perspectives less compelling than I would have hoped. Perhaps having so many narrators — not just Pauline, but also the three daughters, one of whom is only nine years old — dilutes the immediacy. The book gets off to a slow start, although the pace picks up quite a bit from about 40% onward, once the flu begins to spread and the family’s life begins to change. The subplot about the orphaned baby adds some suspense, but it’s fairly simple to see where that storyline is going.
I liked the characters well enough, and overall thought this was a fine read about an interesting time period. I can’t really put my finger on why the book as a whole just didn’t particularly grab me.
Title: As Bright As Heaven
Author: Susan Meissner
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publication date: February 6, 2018
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley