Book Review: Mercer Street

cover-mercer-streetBook Description from Goodreads: Weeks after her husband dies in the midst of an affair in 2016, Chicago writer Susan Peterson, 48, seeks solace on a California vacation with her mother Elizabeth and daughter Amanda. The novelist, however, finds more than she bargained for when she meets a professor who possesses the secret of time travel. Within days, the women travel to 1938 and Princeton, New Jersey. Elizabeth begins a friendship with her refugee parents and infant self, while Susan and Amanda fall for a widowed admiral and a German researcher with troubling ties. Filled with poignancy, heartbreak, and intrigue, MERCER STREET gives new meaning to courage, sacrifice, and commitment as it follows three strong-willed souls on the adventure of a lifetime.

Book Review: I’ve always been fond of time travel, so when the author contacted me about reviewing “Mercer Street,” I was definitely interested.

However, I would not say this book is a romance, or a science fiction book, even. It’s focused on the trio–Susan, Elizabeth, and Amanda–and how the journey back in time changes them, and yet how their intergenerational bond is stronger than anything. Even romance and death have to play second fiddle to their relationships with each other.

So here’s a closer look at the Narration, Content, Characters, Artwork, World-Building, and Overall Response.

Narration: Three out of Five. There was a consistent tone to the book, but I didn’t feel like it was a rich viewpoint. It involved “just enough to carry the story forward” sorts of detail, rather than the kind that makes you know more about the characters or the setting and mood.

Mostly, I felt like the narration couldn’t make up its mind about what sort of narration it was. It didn’t head-hop, and it didn’t go in for symbolism or rich description. It was simple and clear, and it felt like this was chosen to leave the focus on mental contemplation and internal dialogues, but I didn’t feel like we were close enough to the characters to really make the lack of details make sense, so it came off as more-or-less shallow.

Content: Four out of Five. The book was very well-represented in its content: there was little language, and you couldn’t mistake the people from the past as being “modern.” There was a suggestion of premarital sex, but the scene itself happened off page.

The only thing I wished for was a bit more historical coloring of place and time, of setting and world. It felt not-modern, but it didn’t necessarily feel like 1938, possibly because we spend so much time on Mercer Street that all we’re dealing with are houses, cooking, gardening and baby-raising–which haven’t changed all that much. (The characters would make comments, now and then, but the descriptions weren’t enough to immerse me into the world, as noted below.)

Characters: Three out of Five. The author does an adequate job representing three very different women, but I never felt like I knew the people involved in the story. I learned that Elizabeth disliked arguments, and Amanda was fond of creating scenes and getting almost hysterical, yet I didn’t feel like we learned why these characters are who they are. We just see them make decisions, and even though we are present for some of the very backstory that influences these people, it doesn’t add up to compelling characters. The real reason I kept turning pages was because I wanted to know how the romances would turn out, which shouldn’t be the focus for a book that isn’t really a romance.

Artwork: Subjective. Personally, I think the cover should’ve shown the house in winter, as we spend more page time in the cold months than the summer months. Also, there wasn’t much about the house to give the suggestion of its time frame, which, while it suits the lack of detail given to the setting, doesn’t really say “this is a book about mothers and daughters.”

World Building: Three out of Five. As noted above, the story was about the women and the choices they make, not the place–which, for a story with time-travel, struck me as rather disappointing. There was so much to work with, since this novel could’ve combined all the feel of a modern world in parts with the environment of a historical novel, but it really just came across as consistently shallow. It did feel like we visited a different time, so I wouldn’t say it failed completely, but there was so much more world-building available, because the past is so different than the present.

Overall Response: 13 out of 20, for a total of 3.25. If you enjoy stories about multigenerational relationships (and not just romances), and you aren’t expecting a lot of science, you would probably like this book. It’s a fairly light, quick read, with enough suspense and twists to make you want to know what’s going to happen next, and the ending was very interesting (though I did feel like the build-up to it could’ve been better).

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Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren

Photo used by permission from the author

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