Sunday, March 14, 2010

Book Review: A Distant Melody

A Distant Melody by Sarah Sundin. 2010. [March 2010] Revell. 432 pages.

One whole delicious week together.

Allie Miller meets Lt. Walter Novak on a train little knowing that her life was about to change forever. Sure, she'd daydreamed about her life changing forever. But did she ever once take those dreams seriously?! No! She didn't. And why not? Because she is Allie Miller. A character with a lot of heart but not much will. (Or perhaps not much sense.) When we first meet Allie she is on her way to a wedding. She'll be hanging out with her best friend from college, and helping her friend prepare for the big day. Of course, she'll be slightly distracted falling in love with the new guy. (Not that she'll be aware of it for three hundred or so more pages. But. Still.)

Walter is in love. He knows it. And he thinks that she's on her way to knowing it as well. The way they are together. Well, it just makes sense that they'd be perfect together. And he is right, by the way, these two are perfect for each other.

But a few things stand in their way. Okay, more than a few things. What is keeping these two apart? The biggest obstacle is Allie herself. And that's no lie. You might think it would be Allie's parents or Allie's boyfriend. (Allie's parents are DETERMINED their daughter will marry Baxter.) Or the fact that there is a war going on. And Walter is stationed in England. And he's flying planes over enemy territory and risking his life with every mission. And yes, those other factors do enter into it. But Allie is Allie's biggest problem.

So what's her problem? That's a good question. I tried to sympathize with her. I tried to understand just where she is coming from. I tried to put myself in her shoes. I tried to put myself in another time and place. But still I'm a bit stumped when it comes to Allie.

But to be honest, Allie is not the only one I had a trouble understanding. Her parents weren't exactly fleshed out characters. But. From what we do see, they're awful, just awful. Because I felt them to be a little flat, a little one dimensional, I had a hard time really believing their actions. Though to be honest, I suppose there are parents that awful in the world. Parents that have so little respect for their children that they try to control and manipulate them even when they are grown. Parents who think nothing of threatening or bullying their children. Though I couldn't understand their devotion to Allie's supposed boyfriend. I couldn't understand why they love, love, love him. And why they can barely like their daughter. I couldn't understand why they'd want to hurt and humiliate their own flesh and blood. It just made little sense to me as a reader. What went on in that home all those years that led to this nonsense?!

Her boyfriend. I think it only takes readers two or three minutes of their time (and that's being generous) to realize that he's not for Allie, not for any woman really. I wouldn't say he's even one dimensional. He's even less present in the novel than that. Yet, just from the tiny bit we see. The bits of dialogue here and there. We know that he is so not right for her. He's unattractive--not physically perhaps, though I honestly can't remember how he's described--but his personality, his soul. He's just repulsive.

And yet. Allie. Poor, poor Allie. She's so very, very lost in her own clueless world that she clings to these Ideas. Ideas of being noble, sacrificial, obedient. Will corresponding with Walt make her shed these foolish ideas, these foolish notions before she's tied down for life to a man that no one (excepting Allie's parents, of course) can respect or love or even like?

A Distant Melody is narrated by Allie and by Walt. As these two acquaintances begin writing letters during World War II, Allie begins to contemplate change, consider making a few decisions here and there for herself.

Walt isn't a perfect hero. That's why I said Allie and Walt were perfect for each other. He's a bit clueless about some things himself. But he's a good deal more aware of his own weaknesses than Allie is of hers. He will at least admit he has a few problems. (Allie, well, she clings to her weaknesses like they're her greatest strengths.) Still, I liked Walt for the most part. At least his being clueless was because of the mixed signals that Allie was sending him. His confusion seemed a bit legitimate. This didn't stop me from becoming extremely angry at him. As a reader, there was one point when I just about lost it.

Did I like A Distant Melody? I liked it well enough to keep reading. Though it took over 250 pages for Allie to have the smallest glimmer of recognition of the obvious, and even a hundred (or so) more pages after that to realize the VERY OBVIOUS. I didn't really care at the time. I was enjoying the journey, for the most part.

The setting. World War II. American Homefront. England. The setting really couldn't be any better. For me. As a reader. And the fact that he was a pilot. Well, I think I was the right reader for this one. The details, the small details, helped distract me. I loved, for example, that Allie talks about seeing the film Holiday Inn. That she talks about how hard it would be to choose between Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. And the music. Oh, the music. It was just right. Maybe not every reader will recognize the songs mentioned, know the songs. But for those that do, well, it helps create the right mood, the right tone.

So I did like this one.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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