The beginning: Two war wives in the midst of World war II, one pregnant, one with a husband and son both away at war, begin corresponding with each other. Through their letters, they become very dear friends, exchanging recipes, sympathy, and prayers for each other.
At first, I thought I’ll Be Seeing You (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository) was a very by-the-numbers homefront of World War II book. To some extent, it is. The women talk about missing their menfolk; Rita finds out that her son was sort of seeing a nondescript woman at the local bar, which she’s not crazy about; Glory bewails her busy busy toddler son running around frantically when she’s pregnant and can’t chase after him.
The end (spoilers in this section only; highlight the blank spaces if you want them): I assumed the end would have the two women meeting up at last, but I found that I couldn’t take not knowing whether either husband or Rita’s son was going to die in the war. I like to know which characters I must harden my heart against, and which I can become attached to. Death toll: 1 – Rita’s husband Sal is killed. Paralyzed: 1 – Glory’s husband is wounded in action and loses the use of his legs. Good thing this isn’t World War I or it probably would have been much worse.
The whole: As I said, I started this book feeling that it was proceeding along well-trodden lines. But it won me over in the end, as the two women grew more trusting of each other, more willing to share their private stories as well as the cheerful stories they put on for general company. Hayes and Nyhan snuck up on me a bit: I hadn’t realized I felt attached to the characters until they began facing real misfortunes, and then all of a sudden I found myself on the edge of tears, a state that persisted for the final third of the book.
The depiction of female friendship was wonderful. Many of the reviews of Code Name Verity talked about how refreshing it is to read a book where friendship is treated as a serious relationship in itself, and I felt the same way about I’ll Be Seeing You. Glory and Rita’s support of and generosity to each other feels very true, as do their occasional disagreements and admonishments of each other’s behavior. I loved it that they always, always assume each other’s good intentions, no matter what they were saying in the letters.
Less successful was the authors’ depiction of the American home front. I don’t mean that I spotted any historical lapses, but the setting felt unfinished. When the authors dropped in small details about American life in the 1940s, it felt elbow-nudgey — like, hey hey, guess what, they didn’t use to have penicillin in those days! it had only just been invented! This is the second time in the past month that it has been brought to my attention that penicillin was beginning to be used during the Second World War, and I liked it better coming from Laurent Binet.
Cover report: British cover wins, but only because it’s more colorful. Neither cover really grabs me, so I don’t think either side of the pond should feel good about this.