by Stephen Ramey Glines
Wilderness House Press
book review by Toby Berry in U.S. Review of Books
“The Depression and the War colored the rest of our lives, my whole generation.”
Kitty Stevenson resided in Germany before WWII as an American socialite, a woman somewhat oblivious to the worst of the Nazis, as if seeing it too closely prevented its clear focus. She managed to leave Nazi Germany on the last boat to New York, arriving just days before the Germans invaded Poland. Now, in Nova Scotia, Canada, she is dying of heart failure, determined to tell her life story to her best friend. This story inside of a story lets readers get to know the delightful main character, Stevenson, when she is both young and old. Glines skillfully weaves the two stories together. Seamlessly, readers go from the 1930s to the 1990s as Stevenson lives her daily hospice life and her memories aloud.
World War II historical fiction has been written in many forms, but penned from the perspective of a naive, young American woman is unique. Likewise, end-of-life stories are plentiful, but from the calm, matter-of-fact, optimistic Kitty Stevenson’s perspective, readers get a taste of the scene as “splendid altogether,” at least in a bittersweet way. Poplar Hill is a northern rural area not far from Halifax, and the descriptions of the rough life and energy it takes to exist up there is a story in itself. “Rescuing Kitty Stevenson had become a county-wide effort…The highway department was going to get the causeway open…then start on Scotch Hill…with two plows and five salt trucks.” Wartime choices made, secrets, guilt, and living life like you mean it are all themes explored in this deep novel. But it isn’t just the “what” but the “how” that makes this book exemplary. A truly professional writer touches deeply, and when Glines describes Stevenson’s bedside last breaths, a tissue box is highly recommended.