By Carol Edgarian
Scribner, 9781501157523, March 2021, 336pp.
The Short of It:
Not the thrilling historical novel I expected.
The Rest of It:
I can’t recall any other stories I’ve read that were set during the San Francisco quake of 1906. For this reason, when Vera showed up on my doorstep I was very excited to read it. Much of the city was destroyed by the quake itself but whatever was left was taken by the fires that resulted from compromised gas lines and the like. In Vera, Vera and her sister Pie are left without a home, their mother killed in the quake. Young, but old enough to fend for themselves, they head to Madam Rose’s house to take refuge. But when they arrive Rose is nowhere to be seen and Vera and Pie are left wondering if she survived the quake.
You may have caught my mention of it above, Rose ran a brothel and was known to many in the area. A brothel is not a place for young girls to take refuge unless you want a reputation to go with it. However, Vera and Pie don’t have many options and when Rose’s hired man, Tan, finds a way to make a living and to keep the food on the table, Vera and Pie stick around while Vera vows to find Rose and to bring her back.
There is an interesting cast of characters in this novel and Vera is likable and plucky and determined. I enjoyed her persistence but felt that overall the story was lackluster. What could have been a thrilling adventure was only lukewarm in the telling. I was in the devastating Northridge quake, right at the epicenter and can speak from experience. It’s a harrowing event to live through and needs become known quite quickly like how will one relieve themselves when no running water exists? How will one buy supplies when there is no power and ATMs don’t work, or even filling up the gas tank to get out of town. Gas pumps do not work when there is no power. Obviously, the story is set in 1906 so these characters don’t worry about such things but I didn’t sense the immediate panic that one experiences after such a devastating event.
All in all, the story was just okay for me. I think it could have been a lot more riveting had we been given a real sense of the panic that these two women felt.
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher.
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