“skillful weaving of fact and fiction… A roller-coaster ride of emotion and adrenaline”
THE HOURS COUNT by Jillian Cantor is a quiet but impactful story about the only two civilians (the married couple Julius and Ethel Rosenberg) who were executed in the U.S. for conspiring to commit espionage. The story will resonate, particularly I think, with mothers. In fact, in the author’s notes, she indicates that her intention in writing this story was to “reimagine Ethel as a person, a woman, the mother whom I pictured her to be.”
This is Cantor’s second historical fiction novel. Through her skillful weaving of fact and fiction, we live through the documented “Red” paranoia of the 1940s/50s, but in so doing, we also meet fully formed fictional characters: next-door neighbor and friend of Ethel’s – Millie Stein; her learning/emotionally disabled son David; her questionable husband Ed; and psychoanalyst Dr. Jake Gold.
Cantor does an incredible job of sketching light traces of doubt in the reader’s mind regarding the intentions of multiple characters. The result? A roller-coaster ride of emotion and adrenaline toward the last 100 pages as the reader wonders who really IS a good guy and who is a bad guy?
I continue to believe that historical fiction – such as Cantor’s THE HOURS COUNT – is one of the most engaging ways to teach American history. The particular case highlighted in this novel is a piece of our history that is glossed over in high school and college classrooms, but is so important to understanding (or NOT understanding) the actions and emotions and shortcomings of communities during political unrest, as well as the role – rightly or wrongly – of government intervention throughout history.
THE HOURS COUNT by Jillian Cantor would offer a great deal of discussion for book clubs as well. I look forward to Cantor’s next historical fiction novel.
(An earlier version of this piece was published at GoodReads on December 1, 2015 by Melissa Crytzer Fry. Reposted here with permission of the post author.)