Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio
Author: Sarah Jio
Genre: Fiction (Dual Narrative / Historical / 1933 / Contemporary / 2003 / Missing Child / Seattle / Marriage / Motherhood / Mystery)
Publisher/Publication Date: Plume (9/25/2012)
Source: NetGalley / She Reads Blog Network
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: A freak Seattle snowstorm in 1933 and 2010 connect two women, each facing their own intense tragedy.
Reading Challenges: E-books, Historical Fiction, NetGalley
Do I like the cover?: I have no strong feelings one way or the other.
I'm reminded of...: Keith Cronin, Sarah McCoy, Emily Jeanne Miller, Camille Noe Pagán
First line: An icy wind seeped through the floorboards and I shivered, pulling my gray wool sweater tighter around myself.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if this is your genre -- it's getting lots of love from bloggers I know.
Why did I get this book?: I'd heard a lot of raves for Jio's The Violets of March and was curious about this one.
Review: If I didn't have to read this book for review, I would have stopped 60 pages in and we would have parted friends. This book is just not my thing -- not my genre, or my writing style, or my plot -- so it didn't work for me, but I don't think that should be a knock against this book.
The blackberry winter of the title refers to spring snowstorms that hit now and then. In 1933, a May snowstorm brings Seattle to a halt. Vera Ray, single mother, maid in Seattle's most glamorous hotel, leaves her three-year old son for the night to complete her shift. Upon returning home, her son is gone -- missing -- but despite her efforts, the police believe he's simply a runaway who will return when he's hungry. In 2010, Claire, a features reporter for a Seattle newspaper, struggles to deal with her depression following a tragic accident as her marriage unravels. A freak May snowstorm leads her to discover the mystery of Vera's missing son, and she becomes consumed with finding out what really happened.
Both Vera and Claire are women grappling with tragedy -- Vera's more immediately, Claire's lingering and festering -- as well as their place next to Seattle's rich elite. Vera's lover -- the father of her son -- is a Seattle scion and Claire's husband is the handsome, charming heir of a Seattle newspaper dynasty. Unsurprisingly, they're connected, and depending on your enthusiasm for solving mysteries, you may or may not guess early on the 'twist'. (I guessed, but I was feeling a little surly.)
There's a love triangle, familial drama, social commentary, improbable coincidences, lots of armchair travel around Seattle, a great need for grownups to use their big kid words and just have a bloody conversation, very brisk storytelling (no maudlin dwelling, happily!), beloved heroines and villain-y villains.
The emotions are big and easy to understand and the resolution just as obvious, but in some ways, that's what is great about this book. You go into it knowing what you're going to get, and Jio's writing is fast and full enough to suck one in. I read this in a day and a half -- it's not breakneck but there is a sense of momentum, questions the reader needs answered -- and Jio's skill is in creating that tension without a ton of lead up. We're plunged into the drama, both Vera's and Claire's, and whatever quibbles I had about the characters and their life choices, Jio doesn't let passivity move the story along.
Seattle lovers, and those who like place as character should get this, as Jio's juxtaposition of Seattle -- 1933 and 2010 -- was wonderful and interesting. Perhaps my favorite part of the story -- it made me wish I could tour the city this weekend and check out the sites she mentioned.