Tale on Bainbridge Island flawed, but still a sweet story

The BookmongerMay 22, 2011 

Seattle writer Sarah Jio has taken a quantum leap – from cranking out women’s magazine fodder on topics such as “surprising fat burners” and mommying the man in your life, to producing her first novel.

“The Violets of March” is a love story that intertwines families and generations on Bainbridge Island. While it involves covetousness and infidelity, this book is at heart a sweet-tempered tale that has a lot to say about the endurance of true love over distance, disappointment, and time.

The main character, Emily, is a 30-something New York author who has been dumped by her husband for another woman. She flees the Big Apple for Bainbridge Island, where her eccentric but benevolent Great Aunt Bee offers her a room in her large house on the beach. It is a place that Emily used to visit every summer, and the prospect of spending a month on the shores of Puget Sound sounds therapeutic.

And it is. Within the first 24 hours of her arrival, she has been asked out to dinner by two different men. This kind of attention certainly distracts her from the cad she left behind.

Even more distracting is a diary she finds tucked in the drawer of her bedside table. Dating back to 1943, it appears to contain the confessions of a young woman named Esther who is having an affair. But how did this woman’s diary end up in Bee’s guest bedroom?

Further mysteries arise when it becomes clear that Bee has some regrets, but she is reluctant to talk about them. As Emily meets other islanders from Bee’s generation, all of them seem to be aware of long-held secrets, but no one is ready to divulge them.

Jio has developed an ambitious plot line, creating complicated love lives for two different women 70 years apart. The contemporary romance is believable enough – as romance novels go. (You will be required to accept that three men are vying for our heroine all at the same time!)

But the “vintage” romance, only partially limned in the diary, is a veritable tangle of cross-purposes amongst many players who orbit around two charismatic but star-crossed lovers.

Once the reader can finally pencil these out, it doesn’t quite all add up. Jio leans too heavily on coincidence and improbable actions. She also resorts to one tactic – I cannot reveal it here without being a spoiler – that simply defies logic.

Another question that may come up for readers who are familiar with local history will be the complete lack of acknowledgement of Bainbridge Island’s social environment in the 1940s. Set in 1943, one scant year after the forced removal of all of the island’s Japanese inhabitants, the story contains nary a word about this tumultuous event, which surely had an indelible effect upon the young people living there at the time.

“The Violets of March” is flawed, but it is a beginning. Jio has two more books in the works.

Contact The Bookmonger, Barbara Lloyd McMichael, at bkmonger@nwlink.com.

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