Monthly Archives: September 2016

“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins

girlontrain

The Girl on the Train is a psychological thriller narrated by three women.  The main narrator is Rachel, whose heavy drinking has cost her both a  marriage and a job.  She unhappily shares a flat with someone she knew at college and, instead of letting her roommate know she lost her job, she keeps up the façade of her old routine by taking the same train into London every morning, sipping canned gins and tonic.  The train goes by her old house, where her ex-husband (Tom) lives with his newish wife (Anna) and their newborn baby.  The train also passes a house where a handsome couple (Megan and Scott) live; Rachel sees them breakfasting on their deck and projects a life of bliss:  a perfect marriage, perfect home, perfect jobs.  “He is dark-haired and well built, strong, protective, kind. He has a great laugh. She is one of those tiny bird-women, a beauty, pale-skinned with blond hair cropped short.” She continues, “They’re a match, they’re a set. They’re happy, I can tell. They’re what I used to be, they’re Tom and me five years ago. They’re what I lost, they’re everything I want to be.” Every day is the same – until it isn’t.  One morning, Rachel is shocked to see Megan kissing another man.  The next day she hears on the news that Megan has gone missing.  Rachel goes to the police, but, because of her drinking, is deemed an unreliable witness.  Rachel herself isn’t completely sure what she remembers or what really happened.  She gathers the nerve to go to Scott under the guise of being a friend of Megan’s and learns that Megan was seeing a therapist.  Rachel boldly books an appointment with the therapist to see what she can learn.  The plot thickens when Rachel learns that Megan has been babysitting Anna and Tom’s newborn baby.

Megan, the second narrator, is not anything like Rachel imagined.  She is restless with Scott and having an affair with her therapist.  She used to work in an art gallery and longs to be a free spirit, but feels out of place and confined in her suburban neighborhood.  Megan is bored, edgy, and unhappy, until the day she disappears – never to be seen again.

Anna, the final narrator, initially gloats about her victory in winning Tom away from Rachel.  Rachel is infertile, but Anna and Tom immediately conceive a baby.  As the story moves along, Anna and Rachel learn they have more than their love of Tom in common.

The author, Paula Hawkins, does a masterful job of portraying the story through the vantage points of the three women.  With changing timelines and alternating accounts, she spins a tight ,suspenseful tale.  I could not put this book down.  A movie adaptation, starring Emily Blunt and directed by Tate Taylor, is scheduled for release on October 10.

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” show at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, October 5.  Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, October 5 for a discussion of The Girl on the Train at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome, and the Club meets monthly all year long.  Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.

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“The Girls of Atomic City” by Denise Kiernan

girlsofatomic

At the height of World War II, men were off fighting and women were engaged in war efforts here in the states.  Detroit’s car plants were refashioned to build fighter planes, ammunition, trucks, and tanks.  The country was unified in its intense effort.

In eastern Tennessee, residents began receiving notices stating that their land and homes were no longer theirs and they would need to vacate.  The government cleared 59,000 acres of land and erected a secret city (not listed on any maps) in a matter of months to house 75,000 workers.  At the height of construction, houses were erected at the rate of one every 30 minutes.  These workers, mostly women, were recruited from the cities of the Northeast, farms of the South, and small towns in the Midwest.  The promise was good pay, housing, and an effort to end the war.  The price was blind obedience and sealed lips.  Only a few at the top really knew what was going on.  The average worker only knew her specific minuscule task and was forbidden to talk to neighbors or coworkers about it – they had an ant’s-eye-view of an elephant unable to fathom the big picture.

Only after the shock of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did they reach a realization – they built the atomic bomb.

Denise Kiernan told the story through the eyes and voices of real women – some still alive: Celia, a secretary transferred from the Manhattan Project’s original offices in New York City; Toni, a secretary from neighboring Clinton, Tennessee – her aunt and uncle’s farm was seized by the government; Jean, a statistician-mathematician from Paris, Tennessee, who supervised a team of young women who crunched numbers to track production, and others.  Interviews, research, and notes from diaries were used to recreate this unique personal slice of American history.

Although the workers were equally unified in their dedication to the war effort, their treatment was still subject to the gender and race inequalities of the time.  Whites were put in dormitories, African Americans were housed in four-person, 256-square-foot “hutments,” each one “a square plywood box of a structure that had a potbellied stove sitting right smack-dab in the middle.” Kattie, an African-American woman, tells how she was not allowed to live with her husband, when white couples could.  Houses, impermanent as they were, were reserved for families.  A household was not a household, unless it was led by a man.

The purpose of the instant city was what happened in the plants.  However, to keep an orderly and happy workforce, efforts were taken to take care of the workers personal and social needs.  Churches, stores, movie theaters, recreational centers for skating and dancing were all created from scratch.  Social organizations thrived – there were even boy scouts and girl scouts for the kids.

The unity of government, industry, and individuals all working for one goal creates a stark contrast to the divisive climate today.  It’s unimaginable to think of 75,000 people uprooting, not knowing where they will be moving and not knowing what their jobs will be – all on blind trust in the government.

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 6.  Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Tuesday, September 6 for a discussion ofThe Girls of Atomic City at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome, and the Club meets monthly all year long.  Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.

 

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