Title: A Fall of Marigolds
Author: Susan Meissner
Publication: Penguin, trade paper, 2014
Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction
TBR Challenge: This is the third book I have read from the 2019 Challenge, created by Roof Beam Reader.
Plot: In this novel, Meissner weaves together two tragedies, nearly 100 years apart yet connected by an unusual scarf of marigold-patterned Indian fabric. Taryn Michaels is a textile expert who lost her husband on 9/11 just as she was about to meet him at Windows on the World to tell him she was pregnant, while Clara Wood is a nurse who, back in 1911, witnessed the horror of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Both women were traumatized by their experience and survived by devoting themselves to their work. Clara takes a job on Ellis Island, nursing immigrants not considered well enough to disembark immediately, and caring for a patient whose deceased wife owned the scarf. Taryn brings up her daughter quietly, while working at a fabric store on the Upper West Side. She tries to forget the events of the terrible day of World Trade Center attacks, including the client who consulted her about a rare scarf. Both women seem to be in a holding pattern, while friends and family want them to move on with their lives.
My Impressions: I am a big fan of books set in dual time lines and, fortunately for me, a number of authors have embraced this sub-genre. In my opinion, the most successful of these writers is Susanna Kearsley but in Secrets of a Charmed Life I was impressed by the way Susan Meissner weaves historical elements into her fiction. Several years ago, at a book signing in Rhode Island, Kearsley mentioned that it is difficult to make the two different time fames (usually one historical and one present day) equally compelling to the reader, which is interesting to contemplate, although the situation in this well-written book by Meissner was somewhat different. Here, I was impatient with both heroines’ prolonged melancholy, despite recognizing each had been through a tragic experience from which it would be hard to recover. And although it echoed my own feelings, I was annoyed by characters, particularly the doctor who works with Clara on Ellis Island, who pushes her to forget the tragedy she experienced, not realizing that recovery does not happen on a set time frame. While this story is meant to convey the possibility of hope and loving again, the overwhelming sense of desolation that permeates most of the book somewhat exhausted this reader.
Off the Blog: I am visiting my sister on Cape Cod for a few days, writing from a deck that radiates serenity despite the Marco Polo cries from nearby nephews and nieces.
Windows on the World: My friend Shelia was asked to speak at a conference at Windows on the World the morning of 9/11 but she declined because of a business trip. When her trip got canceled, she forgot to tell the organizers she was now available so witnessed the events of that day from her nearby office instead of being there. We were supposed to meet for a drink that night and she had purchased a box of Scotchmallows for me, which she remembered to snatch as she fled from her office that morning amidst all the horror . . .
Source: Personal copy. Thank you to Ellen Edwards for recommending this author.