And now for something completely different: historical fiction!
Now, normally, I'm almost perfectly ambivalent about historical fiction. When I chance across a great title in the genre, I tend to really like it, and even if I don't remember all the plot points, I can usually remember the tone and feeling of such books (a few examples: Jane Urquhart's superlative The Stone Carvers; Sarah Dunant's The Birth of Venus), which is a vast improvement over how poorly I remember other fiction titles that I read.* But the majority of historical fiction doesn't do much for me--it tends to be too long and too detailed.
So when I picked up Lauren Belfer's A Fierce Radiance, I was actually kind of pumped to read it, as I remembered reading and enjoying another historical novel of hers titled City of Light (about Niagara Falls). Imagine my disappointment, then, as I struggled through about 150 pages of this one and had to give it up.
The story's compelling enough; the main character is independent 1940s woman Claire Shipley, a freelance photographer with Life magazine who is assigned to cover an early story on advances using penicillin, the new wonder drug. Claire's interest in the treatment goes beyond the professional; her daughter died years previously of blood poisoning, one of the diseases that penicillin would become useful in treating. While photographing the patients and doctors involved, she falls in love with Dr. James Stanton, but his duty during World War II interrupts their love story.
There's actually much more to the novel than that--read the Powell's annotation if you're looking for the full version--but I had two problems with this book. One, I hit the obviously insurmountable (for me, at least) subject deal-breaker of World War II. Two, I thought the writing was a little phoned-in, which was a disappointment after her first novel. Consider:
"Even in the restaurant's half-light, she was more beautiful than he remembered, with a combination of wayward sexiness and demure elegance that he hadn't registered before. She was dressed simply, in tailored trousers and a close-fitting sweater. Without her ubiquitous cameras and equipment bags, she was more vulnerable and feminine than he recalled. He wanted to reach across the table and caress her hair. Actually he wanted to do much more than that--making love with her flashed through his mind--but he held back. He didn't want to make her uncomfortable by moving too close too fast. He was willing to wait for her." (p. 138.)
I don't know..."making love with her flashed through his mind"? Am I the only one juvenile enough around here to get a giggle out of that? Once I started giggling at what was supposed to be a serious story I knew it was time to hang it up.
*Mr. CR is continually amazed at my amazing swiss-cheese memory. Nonfiction titles, film trailers of any kind, and BBC actor names are in my brain forever; novels I read yesterday and most conversations or events from last week are gone forever.