Wednesday, October 17, 2018

News of Our Loved Ones by Abigail DeWitt

The Delasalle family has lived through 4 years of Nazi occupation in Normandy. When the day of liberation comes, tragedy strikes. Told through the eyes of a number of different family members, News of Our Loved Ones describes what happens to the Delasalle family in June of 1944.

I don't want to give away any of the details of this story because I liked the way it unfolded, although it could be confusing, at times, and the sheer quantity of viewpoints makes it feel very disjointed. In spite of that, everything comes together in the end in a satisfying way. So, instead, I'll talk about the stylistic choices.

News of Our Loved Ones feels more like an interconnecting set of related stories than a novel, at least to me. I noticed that parts of the story have been previously published, so my gut feeling that it was written as separate parts and then cobbled together may be somewhat supported by the fact that bits of it have been published separately. I tend to dislike this particular type of novel, but because it's a WWII story, there was no way I was going to give up on it without finishing. In spite of it being doled out the way it was, the prose is magnetic and the author has a way of making you feel like you're looking through a window at times, at other times planted in a character's shoes. Regardless, it was enough to glue me to the pages. I had to know what happened to each of the characters.

From 1944, the story jumps ahead decades and one of the family members, Geneviève, is now an American who brings her children back to France in the summers. This is from the cover description:

Geneviève's youngest daughter, Polly, becomes obsessed with the stories she hears about the war, believing they are the key to understanding her mother and the conflicting cultures shaping her life. 

Moving back and forth in time and told from varying points of view, News of Our Loved Ones explores the way family histories are shared and illuminates the power of storytelling to understand the past and who we are. 

Recommended - The writing is what wins the day in News of Our Loved Ones. It's incredibly vivid, enough so that I gasped at least once and felt caught up in the emotions of the characters. However, I didn't love the disjointed sensation and the feeling that the author was holding out on me, telling the story in such slow drips that I couldn't read fast enough. I wanted to fully understand the characters and what had happened to each of them, but had the book not been a WWII story, I probably would have given up on it in spite of the exceptional prose. If multiple viewpoints tend to make you want to pull your hair out, you might want to skip this one. But, it's a moving story that tells about the Allied invasion from an unusual angle, everything makes sense in the end, and it is stunningly told. So, if you aren't bothered by a fragmented sensation that makes you feel like there are a few too many pieces of the puzzle left out for maybe a bit too long, News of Our Loved Ones is really a marvelous piece of literature.

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  1. I kind of like these stories that were written separately then put together. Especially when it works well.

    1. If you do, this is a good one. It's just not my favorite thing. I thought the story was worth the effort, in the end.


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