Friday, June 21, 2013

The Storm by Shelley Thrasher

Publisher:       Bold Strokes Books

The problem with a novel based on history is that the reader probably already knows what is going to unfold in the events.  The author however should not telegraph her moves ahead of time.  One of the tricks of a historic novel is keeping the reader believing that something different is going to occur from what she expects even though she knows it can’t.  Shelley Thrasher tells a typical romance, but she couldn’t disguise the history and that makes the story predictable.

Jacqueline “Jaq” Bergeron is one of those Americans who volunteered to help in World War I before the US actually entered the war.  It was an exciting time for women as they entered a period of greater personal freedom and hovered on the rim of gaining full political rights in the US, so Jaq seeks adventure by leaving her home in New Orleans to serve as an ambulance driver in France.  After seeing more than she needs to and a disappointing love affair, she returns home as the wife of a war hero she doesn’t love.  He agrees to give her a divorce if she will go to his home in East Texas and help with his family.  While there Jaq meets Molly, who is trapped in a friendly but passionless marriage.  Molly escapes from her overbearing mother-in-law and drab surroundings by caring for her son and immersing herself in music.  Jaq opens a window to a world that Molly never imagined could.  A killer brought home from the war has the power to reorient everyone’s reality.

The Storm is a routine romance.  Women meet, encounter an obstacle and have to decide a way around it.  What could have made it different is the time period in which it is set.  The book doesn’t have any energy though.  The story drags from one scene to another, following the formula and practically ignoring the energy of the time.  Women are on the move.  They are claiming a new existence for themselves.  Little of that is in here.  There is one episode where Molly decides to register to vote, but that interest level isn’t sustained through the book.  The rest of the book is uneven.  The characters don’t shine or stand out.

The situations don’t ring true either.  Molly fears the disapproval of her mother-in-law, but thinks nothing of sneaking off for hours with Jaq to do something else.  They don’t want anyone to know what is going on between them, but their behavior indicates that something is very much out of the ordinary.  Because Thrasher switches from the mind of one character to another, including Molly’s mother-in-law, it’s sometimes easy to lose track of who is “thinking.”  That means the reader has to backtrack and pick up the threads again.

The most disappointing part of the book is the way it handles the Spanish influenza epidemic that hit the US during World War I.  That was one of the most dramatic episode in recent US history and a societal change agent.  This could have been used to give the book a real punch, but it wasn’t.  Instead, the flu becomes a simple means to an end.

Those looking for a book to entertain them will find The Storm meets that requirement.  If you like to learn something about a period when you read, you’ll find this book falls far short of what it could have been.

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