A few weeks ago Dot who blogs at DotScribbles sent out a Twitter plea for help with review copies of novels. I automatically replied with my interest and lucky for me she sent me a copy of Daisy Waugh’s Melting the Snow on Hester Street. So I received the beautiful book related post, then amongst the excitement a teeny bit of doubt settled in; what if I didn’t like it? Can I justify writing a negative book review on someone else’s blog? What if I take FOREVER to read it? Have I taken on a bit more than I can chew? And then I told myself to get a grip, waited for school to finish and the luxury of half term and picked it up from my bedside ‘to be read’ stack.
Melting the Snow on Hester Street tells the story of Hollywood golden couple, Max and Eleanor Beecham; it is October 1929 and America and the Beecham’s are heading for disaster. Both Max and Eleanor are slowly slipping from their pedestal at the top of the film world and yet their minds are focusing on a deep rooted past secret and the heartache it has brought to their lives.
The narrative opens with Max and Eleanor’s glamorous, yet somewhat empty lives in 1929. Despite spending the evening throwing a party for Hollywood Royalty it is clear Max and Eleanor are unhappy and have lost the spark in the marriage and there are subtle clues throughout the opening chapters hinting at what might have caused this. I was enjoying the novel, but I wasn’t overly engrossed in it at this point; yes, there was some mystery, but it was missing a really intriguing hook. And then we were transported to the lives of Matz and Eleana in the poverty stricken slums of New York in 1911 and for me the novel truly came alive. Waugh’s depiction of the lives of immigrants, fresh off the boots, is well described and she paints a perfect picture of how many arrived full of hope of achieving their American Dream and yet were faced with the horrible reality of dirty, cramped, over crowded slums and the unfair and oppressive working conditions. Throughout the rest of the novel the narrative flicks between the two time periods culminating in the mystery of how Matz and Eleana transformed into Max and Eleanor and just what it is that has rocked their marriage.
I preferred the Matz and Eleana element of the novel as it offered a great contrast to the futility of the Hollywood lifestyle and seemed much purer than the 1920s part of the novel. I liked how all Matz and Eleana truly had was their love for one another and how this played out amongst the backdrop of the strikes of fabric workers and an horrific (and true life) factory fire that killed 146 immigrant workers. This part of the novel was well written and had me engrossed from the start; it certainly appealed to the historian in me much more than the 1920s section and without it I don’t think I would have enjoyed the narrative as much.
Overall I am happy I offered to write this review and that Dot chose me. It isn’t a book I would have chosen to read if I had seen it in a bookshop as I tend to read mainly British fiction, but I am glad that I did read it. I haven’t read much fiction based around the turn of the century in America and it was certainly enjoyable finding out more about this particular period of history and especially about the lives of those new to America, still full of their hopes and dreams. In the Author’s Notes Waugh writes about the inspiration for certain events in the novel and it was interesting finding out that certain characters are based on real life people (although I did know that Charlie Chaplin was definitely real) and that tragic events, such as the factory fire, actually happened. I would certainly recommend Melting the Snow on Hester Street, especially with the renewed interest in 1920s America with the release of Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby; it highlights the decadence and futility of life before The Wall Street Crash and arguably the hollowness of The American Dream.
Thank you again to Dot for sending me this book.