In The Postmistress, Sarah Blake contrasts the life of wartime radio journalist Frankie Bard, broadcasting live from London in 1941, with the peacetime lives of several of her listeners, residents of a small town in New England. Blake's goal is to remind us how the horrors of war can go on just out of sight, just beyond our borders, and how difficult it is for people in each environment to understand the experiences of others.
Frankie sees unimaginable horrors; Iris (the Postmistress) and her fellow Americans, not yet at war, are deeply disturbed by Frankie's broadcasts. Frankie can't imagine why no one is acting, why Americans aren't getting involved; some of her listeners just wish she would tone it down a bit.
How do I know this is Blake's point?
Well, first, because Blake is a good writer and I'm a good reader, so through the miracle of fiction, I picked up her message. But in case that didn't work, the book contains an odd afterward, written by Blake, where she tells us that this was her point. I am mystified as to why the publishers thought this essay was necessary. Must authors now include these sorts of crib sheets in case the reader is out to lunch?
Blake also uses the essay to explain a historical shortcut -- Frankie uses a kind of recording device in 1941 that wasn't actually available until 1944 -- but who cares? I was mildly interested in the information she included about Edward R. Murrow and the few women radio journalists working at the time, so I guess the essay wasn't a total waste.
This book is erratic. It starts off with a cringe-inducing episode that only seems more unlikely the better acquainted you become with the character it involves. It skips around among several viewpoints, some of which are continents away from others. Yet each character's story is compelling, and in some cases, deeply moving, however cobbled together the book feels as a whole.
Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.