Thursday, January 27, 2011

Will "The Postmistress" be the next big hit with book clubs?

When Sarah Blake arrives at Park Road Books on Tuesday, it'll be her first stop on a national tour aimed at making her novel, "The Postmistress," the talk of book clubs all over the country.

The novel follows the lives of three American women in 1940-41, before America has entered World War II. Two -- a postmistress and a doctor's wife, live in a small town on Cape Cod. The third, Frankie Bard, is a CBS radio reporter stationed in London at the height of the Blitz.

"The Postmistress " spent four weeks on The New York Times bestseller list when it came out in hardback last year. The paperback edition ($15) is out Tuesday, and its publishers are hoping a robust marketing campaign will produce the kind of success -- sales of more than a million copies -- that Kate Jacobs' "Friday Night Knitting Club" enjoyed when it came out in paperback.

After finishing "The Postmistress" last night, I see why Blake's publishers are optimistic. It's a powerful, beautifully written story about how we deal with the news and what we do in response to it. It's about how Iris, the postmistress, and Frankie, the reporter, both betray their beliefs that the mail must be delivered and the news must be reported.

The book, Blake writes at the novel's end, is "about the lies we tell others to protect them, and about the lies we tell ourselves in order not to acknowledge what we can't bear: that we are alive, for instance, and eating lunch, while bombs are falling, and refugees are crammed into camps, and the news comes toward us every hour of the day."

In part, she told me in an interview, "I was really trying to come to terms with my own time," a time when we go about our lives as soldiers fight and people die in Iraq and Afghanistan.
To paint an accurate picture of 1940s-era London and America, Blake read histories and novels from the time period, Life magazines and great pieces of war reporting. (In her novel, Edward R. Murrow is Frankie's boss in London.)

"For historical fiction, you want to make a world which is absolutely credible," Blake said. "Your research can’t show at all."

Blake will read and sign copies of "The Postmistress" at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 1 at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.

She's also available to speak by phone to book groups. To set up a book club talk, contact
Melissa Broder at