Dream When You're Feeling Blue By Elizabeth Berg
Elizabeth Berg has been writing a novel every year or so for many years. A sort of American Maeve Binchy, I haven't liked them all – but I've liked most of them. The most recent Dream When You're Feeling Blue is a nostalgic look at life in America during the Second World War. The Heaney family consists of mom and dad, three daughters in their late teens and early twenties, and three younger boys.
They are a warm, loving Irish Catholic family living in Chicago with a very normal family. When the United States enters the war, their lives change – there is rationing, the women take jobs as the men enlist.
One daughter, Kitty, works in a factory where she discovers that she is self-reliant and proud to do a man's work, while her sisters and friends work in shops. The independence she comes to value changes the course of her life.
The eldest sister, Louise, becomes engaged to her long-time boyfriend, Michael, just before he leaves for Europe.
The youngest girl, Tish, grows up quickly as she joins her sisters in writing, not only to their own boyfriends, but to many other boys in the armed forces overseas.
They attend dances with young men from all across the country who are about to go off to war.
Their friendly faces and kind words may be the last these boys know, as so many do not come home again.
I was reminded of a CBC radio program aired several years ago. Many Canadians talked about their war-time experiences, Timothy Findley and June Callwood among them.
I remembered June Callwood talking about the young women having sex with young men – some only acquaintances – just before they left to go overseas, that it just seemed the right thing to do.
This novel is full of things of the past. Who remembers "come-as-you-are" parties? Tish runs off in her bathrobe.
When one of the daughters becomes pregnant there is no regret, "If something happens to him, at least I'll have his child."
There must have been many who felt the same. It seemed like looking into a time capsule to read this book – the homes, the clothes, the hairstyles, the family life.
It made me think, not only of the men who left for war, we seem to have many books that tell that story, but also of the mothers and fathers, the sisters and younger brothers who could only continue to live their lives, writing to their loved ones and hoping that they would return.
I will share this book with my own mother, who was in high school when her oldest brother was killed in Italy, and ask her what it was like for her during the war.
I think this is a novel that women of all ages would enjoy, from older teens to elderly women.
We follow the lives of these characters intimately during the war years and have the satisfaction of knowing what became of them afterwards, as their lives are re-visited more than 50 years later.