Monday, February 16, 2009

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

It is 1947 and Evie Spooner is living a relatively dull life in Queens, NY. Her mother, Beverly has been holding down the home front while her step-dad Joe was fighting in WWII. Beverly is a beautiful blond who tends to be overprotective of Evie and who wants her daughter to stay a child. Joe owns a couple of businesses and seems to be on the road to prosperity when he begins to receive anonymous phone calls that bring on a very angry side to him. On the spur of the moment, after one of these calls, he announces that the family is going on vacation to Palm Beach, FL. Evie is distressed that she will be missing her friends and eventually her school.

When the family arrives in Florida, the place seems like a ghost town. Most of the hotels are boarded up and they are lucky to find accommodation at the Le Mirage. Here they meet and are befriended by the Graysons, a wealthy couple from NYC. It is also here that Peter Coleridge makes his presence known. To Evie, he is an incredibly good looking man who shows romantic interest in Evie. To Joe, he is an acquaintance from the war who has secrets that increase Joe's anxiety. Evie is smitten and finds ways to be with Peter even if she knows the consequences will cause her to grow up very quickly.

Joe and the Graysons develop a business scheme that will make all wealthy. But Peter may have some knowledge to foil the plans. As the plot develops the reader feels that he or she may not be aware of all that is going on in the lives of the Spooners or their acquaintances. Where does Beverly go for such long spells, what does the bell-boy Wally know about Peter and Evie, and why do the Graysons suddenly leave the hotel? In the end after a violent hurricane strikes the area and a horrible tragedy ensues, Evie must come to a realization as to what she really wants in life.

What I Saw and How I Lied was the winner of the National Book Award in the Young Adult category. It was truly deserving. The novel is a period piece of the late 1940s and also a most intriguing mystery. It is a page turner with the characters being alive and energized by ulterior motives. It is dark and foreboding, but in the end Blundell resolves those mysteries that change her characters.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Revolutionary Road is another book upon which an acclaimed movie has been based this year. It is beautifully written, tho honest and disturbing. It chronicles the suburban life of Frank and April Wheeler in the 1950s. They are supposedly living the American dream, but they perceive their life is seriously lacking meaning. Frank is an account sales manager, April, a housewife and mother. His job is to bring home the bacon and wear the pants in the family and hers is to run the household. But neither is satisfied and so they decide to leave their Connecticut home and take up residence in France. She will work while he reflects on his life and tries to decide what he wants to be. This all seems well and good until circumstances arise that cause them to take pause and rethink the decision.

Throughout the book the tension is taut and emotional. Frank and April engage in frequent and violent arguments. Their battle stems from who is in control and how much control can be exerted. It is a brutally honest snapshot of life in the 50s. Yates' mastery of dialogue brings this book to life. His portrayal of Frank and April is a well-developed character study. The minor characters - Milly and Shep Campbell, John, Howard, and Mrs. Givings - add to the insight into Frank and April and provide a more intimate revelation of the interrelationships.

The ending, shocking as it were, had to happen. And life goes on, witnessed by the willingness of the Campbells to put their friendship out their minds and Howard turning his hearing aid off. A definite contemporary masterpiece.