A little over a year ago I had never heard of Frances Parkinson Keyes. Then I spotted Roses in December at a library used book rack, and picked it up thinking it was a gothic romance. Instead, it was the autobiography of a senator’s wife who later became a writer. The kicker for me, however, was that she lived in New England and gave a fantastically detailed account of early twentieth century Boston. After reading this I walked down Beacon Street with different eyes, never having dreamed that the apartment buildings were originally huge single-family homes.
The fictional Joy Street takes place a little later, during WWII, but still in Boston. It tells the story of newlyweds Emily and Roger Field as they begin life together on Joy Street, by Beacon Hill. Emily comes from old family and old money, with her grandmother’s stubbornness, while Roger is a simple, hardworking lawyer. Despite the outward similarities to Joy in the Morning, however, the book couldn’t be any more different.
I loved getting to see Boston through these new but older eyes, even though the vision was sometimes flawed. One of the subplots of the book is the gradual acceptance of minority groups, as Emily eventually becomes close with Roger’s coworkers and friends Brian (Irish), Pelligrino (Italian), and David (Jewish). One of the things I love about Boston is the rich cultural heritage, especially of the first two groups. Even though Keyes disputes them, however, the stereotypes are still there. I also enjoyed the mention of a game where the “Red Sox hit their way to victory with the venerable Connie Mack at the head of the defeated opposition” (p 167). For those unfamiliar with baseball history, that would be the Philadelphia Athletics.
My favorite part, however, was most definitely Roger. We see the majority of the book from his perspective, and come to love both his endearing traits and his flaws, his hopes for success and his frustration at not being able to help more in the war effort. In fact, I found him much more likable than Emily, so that I was shocked by some events later in the book (though I had had vague feelings of apprehension leading up to it). I had squeezed several hours in on the plane back from Minneapolis, and was restless the entire afternoon until I surrendered and devoted the rest of the night to finishing the book. Though that could also have been a need to escape the frustrating basketball loss.
One quote in particular hit me particularly. Before Emily’s wedding her grandmother warns her that she needs her world to be set on fire, and it won’t happen from Roger.
“Of course I’m in love with Roger.” Emily did not hesitate to say it to herself or anyone else now. She said it proudly and confidently.
“My dear, if you had been, in the sense I mean it, you never would have voluntarily gone off to Kentucky and postponed your marriage for over a year, to prove your point. You’d have eloped, in the face of family opposition, within a week after Roger’s proposal of marriage. You may not care for the comparison, but falling in love is something like having labor pains. You can have ‘false pains’ and you can imagine you’re in love. But when the real labor pains begin, you know the difference right away; you don’t see how you could have ever thought you were suffering before.” (p 44)
I can see Mrs. Forbes’ point, and to me it’s a frightening thought that you may never know something isn’t love until all of a sudden you later run into someone else who sets you aflame. I sense that Emily is somewhat autobiographical; I hope that this wasn’t the case for Keyes and her husband. Henry was her first and only lover, and she was dragged off to Europe for a year before they were allowed to marry. They were together for thirty-five years, however, and she never remarried.
I suppose that what she is referring to, however, is passion; however much you care for someone, which can come with closeness and time, chemistry either happens or doesn’t. Perhaps people are often so desparate for any intimacy that they will fool themselves, commit to someone they love as a person even if the passion isn’t present, especially if that person is passionate about them.