Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Postmistress - Discussion by Susan

I picked up this book, The Postmistress, at our local library, at first drawn by the beautiful cover - the old tattered letters, the beautiful dried rose. Then on further inspection I read this recommendation: "A beautifully written, thought-provoking novel that I'm telling everyone I know to read." - Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help. Having just finished (and loved) The Help, I took this recommendation very seriously.

The Postmistress is about 3 women whose lives come together in the fate of a letter, the postmistress of Franklin, Massachusetts is Iris James, in the same little Cape Cod town is Emma Fitch the doctor's wife, and then reporting from London is Frankie Bard, a journalist delivering daily broadcasts over the radio on the war in Europe.

At first I had a hard time getting past the randomness and getting caught up into the story, actually wondering at times why it was titled so - as the story seemed to be more about Frankie than Iris. But as is usually the case, the lives of the different characters collided and resulted in a moving story.

Like a quilt there are many connecting threads that bind these different people together, the daily broadcasts from London delivered by Frankie and listened to by Iris, Emma, and Will; the daily letters written between Emma and her husband Will and delivered by the postmistress Iris; the shared experience by Iris and Frankie of keeping a letter from Emma; the fact that the letters stop brings these three women together.

All the pieces of this patchwork story are woven together - the smaller pieces of the quilt are the many letters that pass through the hands of the postmistress, all the people of the small town, the desperate voices of the refugees on the disk recorder, the love stories between Iris and Harry, Will and Emma.

I can picture this quilt story, with the smaller pieces becoming filler around the prominent central story lines - the 3 women and the 3 key letters, sewn onto a background of underlying fear and danger of war. The pieces are all intertwined and connected by the distinct voice coming through the radio, the voice that makes everyone stop and listen and pay attention, (Q-1) unlike today's news broadcasts that are scripted and rehearsed and canned, only feeling real when something like 9/11 happens and the news has to be reported spontaneously as it happens.

Frankie's sometimes emotional voice paints a picture of the war that is moving and scary and very real to her listeners. (Q-3) The fact that she is a woman makes the people on the other side of the radio - her listeners - perk up and listen, her woman's perspective, her female voice so different than all the other reporters gives her the advantage of catching their attention.

(Q-2) Frankie tells just a little part of the bigger picture or story going on, it would be impossible to tell the whole story at that point in time, that would be something for the history books to attempt down the road.

The author paints a picture of the radio as a focal point in the home or post office, with people gathering around for the news, this is part of our history, the history of technology. (Q-4) The quaint way the news and mail is delivered in this story may make you wish for simpler times, but in reality today's instant delivery of news and information is, I believe, much better - progress.

(discussion of questions 1-4 here, remainder will follow)

~posted by Susan of patchwork reflections

1 comment:

Shirley said...

I love the quilt analogy!

As I read your post and remembered the question about the impact of a woman reporter broadcasting the news, it makes me wonder if having more women in the communications industry helps keep history from being just his-story, but also her-story which oftentimes is more aware of the human element of events. When it is primarily his-story, we see that a quilt is made but when it is her-story as well we learn about the elements that go into the quilt as well as about the quiltmaker.