This book turned out to be so much better than I had thought when I first started it. It starts with quite a lot of description, which turned me off immediately; too much description in the beginning leaves me bored since there’s not enough context to give it deeper meaning. But I stuck it out and it was very well worth it.
One of the things this author does brilliantly is build characters and their existing relationships deeply BEFORE they get mixed together, creating an intimacy with the reader that pays off when the characters start to meet and cross over. Shreve included characters of different wealth levels distinctly to show how strikes affect each one, and she did it beautifully.
For historical fiction about everyday life leading up to and during the Depression, this was quite a page-turner. I just had to keep reading, watching which relationships formed and which fell apart, which characters ended up understanding each other and which never really did in the first place.
It was easy to see Shreve really did her research, and all the resulting minute details make this story 3D. You feel like you’re right there with the characters, experiencing what they experience and learning alongside them. At the end of the book, she lists all or most of her resources, and this book made me want to read all of them.
I only have two critiques. (1) At one point, a poor character isn’t making any money and says he’ll page another person’s wages in full. That made no sense to me. How could he afford it? I didn’t find an answer to that question. (2) There’s an action scene that’s described poorly to the point that I couldn’t understand at all what was happening. I had to reread it a couple of times to grasp that there were a lot of important things missing from the action, including people (!!) which did upset the experience at a critical point in the story. What a huge shame for the climax of the whole book! But again, the rest of the book was so excellent, neither of these things affected my rating.
The ending was totally unpredictable and everything I never thought would happen. Very well done.
I’m definitely going to pick up another Anita Shreve book, and frankly I can’t wait to get started on it!