Book Review: Whistling in the Dark, by Tamara Allen
A Sweet Story
This book was recommended to me by a friend who is very much in love with it. Although I do not see myself as a romance fan, I have nothing against the genre either. Also my friend's enthusiasm was infectious. Thus I followed his recommendation and found myself too enjoy the book.
The story is set in New York the period after World War I. The two leads Jack and Suttons are haunted by the war both physically and emotionally. They struggle hard to find their own places and happiness in the bustling city with help from friends and other good-willed people.
As romance goes, Whistling in the Dark is a good one (and rather by the book, though I do not mean anything negative with that): solid build-up for the relationship with Jack and Sutton gradually learning about each other and about themselves, adorable and discreet intimate scenes, and of course a happy ending that leaves you smiling. I am also taken by how the story is written, and in this lens, I will show you what I find so great about it.
An unfamiliar, dangerous, and captivating New York
My knowledge about the period is sketchy so I cannot tell how accurate the portrayal of post-WWI New York in the book is. What I can tell, however, is that the setting is superbly crafted. The point of view of Sutton, a sheltered young man who grew up in the countryside and whose innocence was not completely destroyed by the war, is an apt choice to show off the world-famous city: unfamiliar, dazzingly busy and full of promises with an edge of danger.
Different faces of the city are vividly conveyed through detailed descriptions from the scenery to how people act: a restaurant lively with jazz music, a lower middle class neighbourhood where people simply gather outside of a shop's window to listen to a pianist playing, the adventures at night of the "artsy" group. I also cannot forget the quiet but hasty and uncompromising hush of all displays of affection in public between two men, which is set in contrast of the rowdy gatherings of the intelligentsia who count among them people of exactly those "unacceptable" sexual orientation. I can totally sympathized with how Sutton is confused but at the same time captivated by New York. I am not sure if I can handle the place, but it certainly has its attraction.
These characters can be my friends
It is very pleasing how full of life the characters are. Similar to how she works with the setting, the author is highly attentive to details of the people occupying her works. Appearances, thoughts, and speeches, everything tells something about the personalities. They are all carefully deliberated, yet at the same time delivered so naturally.
It also helps that the main characters are likeable. They can make you smile with their playful banters, or how they support each other in both overt and subtle manners. It was easy to root for them in their quest to reign in the energy of their New York and ride it to their happiness.
The fun of communicating
A large part of the story deals with Jack and Sutton's efforts to build up their music radio show. The practical incentive for their enterprise is to boost the business of the novelty shop Jack inherits from his father which he has no heart to let it fall, and the idealistic one is that Jack is a radio geek and Sutton a passionate pianist who wants to play despite his injury. However, there is also excitement in overcoming geographical limitation, reaching out to unseen people, and getting responses from them thanks to the radio waves. In a sense, this is what my contemporaries and I are doing, with more ease and variety in content, with the Internet. This realization adds extra charm to the story and make a fun ride even more enjoyable.