Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Summit Avenue by Mary Sharratt

How can you not want to read a book that begins, "How can you weave a life from fairy tales?" I encountered this book while looking at small press websites. I don't even think I read the rest of the summary blurb until I was actually a few chapters into it.

The protagonist is Kathrin Albrecht, a young woman who emigrates from pre-World War I Germany to find a better life in America. She begins her life there as a flour mill worker, learns English, and then finds herself in the good graces of Violet Waverly, a widow who is working on a project and needs a German translator.

I enjoyed the way the fairy tales are woven within Kathrin's story and that the similarities she sees aren't necessarily the parallels the reader sees. I also enjoyed the framing of the story, so that you have a sense of where the story will end--or where you think it will end.

The only slides in my enjoyment of this book were in little moments that I didn't find to be consistent with Kathrin's voice or traditions of the period. There were just a couple paragraphs--one about pre-legal abortion methods that really felt like a rushed mini history lesson (or like it was an interesting bit of information that Sharratt intensely felt needed to be integrated somehow) and the other was regarding wedding rings. (Double ring ceremonies were not common until World War II and as they were both children of European parents, I am doubtful that either of their fathers would have worn wedding bands.)

But those were just a few paragraphs, and the rest of the book was easy to fall into. People will call this book unconventional, but only because the relationship between Kathrin and Violet becomes Sapphic. Like all fairy tales, this is a story of maturation, fear, and love--and it's well worth your attention.

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