Monday, April 26, 2010

Dream When You're Feeling Blue / Elizabeth Berg

Recently, I've been interested in finding out what it was like to live in the 1940s, so when I read a description of this novel in our textbook, I decided I had to read it right away.

It's about an Irish family -- the Heaneys -- who live in the Chicago area during WWII. The story is told in third person from the point of view of Kitty, the second of the five children who all live together with their parents in a three-bedroom house, and the plot really focuses on Kitty and her two sisters, who range in age from around 16 to early 20s. The book begins with Kitty and her elder sister, Louise, saying goodbye to their men who are going off to war. Since letter-writing is a daily activity in their lives, the narrative includes numerous letters as the plot unfolds.

I enjoyed this book overall. It does provide a sense of the sacrifices people made during the war. Imagine having to go without sugar, for instance. Margaret (the mother) is as creative as can be, but at every meal there's an awareness that they miss the meat they used to have, etc. That so large a family lives in a three-bedroom is another period detail, as are things like nightly letter writing and adult women living with their parents. (I love my parents, but I've lived independently since fall 1998 and can't imagine living in a society where the norm is you live with your parents until you're married.) Oh, and receiving the label "spinster" even though you're still in your 20s. Yikes.

The book also has some great romantic elements. A soldier named Hank meets Kitty at a USO dance and begins pursuing her despite the fact that Kitty has a boyfriend. This wooing is a gripping story because it becomes clear that Kitty never was really "into" her boyfriend, but in getting to know Hank she has an awakening of desire that's exciting to witness.

However, I really felt gypped by the way this novel ended. I won't spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that not every character gets a happy ending. That's okay in certain kinds of books and when the author prepares you for it, but in this case what happened felt like a curve ball that hit me from out of nowhere. It was enough of a letdown that I sort of threw the book (tossed, more like) across the sofa when I finished it. So, in the end, I would not recommend this book to others.

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