As Bright as Heaven
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From the acclaimed author of A Bridge Across the Ocean and The Last Year of the War comes a new novel set in Philadelphia during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, which tells the story of a family reborn through loss and love.
In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters--Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa--a chance at a better life.
But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without--and what they are willing to do about it.
As Bright as Heaven is the compelling story of a mother and her daughters who find themselves in a harsh world not of their making, which will either crush their resolve to survive or purify it.
The latest novel by Susan Meissner
As Bright As Heaven is the latest novel by Susan Meissner which is set in 1918. Pauline and Thomas Bright along with their family are relocating from Quakertown to Philadelphia. Thomas has been offered the opportunity to work with his uncle, Fred Bright and eventually inherit the Bright Funeral Home. Pauline is hoping it will provide a better life for their family (three daughters: Evelyn, Willa and Maggie) and, after losing her six-month-old son, she feels that Death is near her. A few months later, Thomas is drafted and their neighbor’s son, Jamie Sutcliff goes off to training camp. Then the Spanish Flu arrives with a vengeance and thousands are dying. Pauline and Maggie are taking food to those without family to assist them. Maggie is waiting for her mother and hears a baby crying. She finds the infant’s mother dead, and Maggie feels the baby is a replacement for the brother she lost. The Bright family takes in the child and names him Alex. But then Willa becomes ill with the dreaded flu and Pauline is the next to become infected. Amidst sickness and war there is hope with little Alex. The Bright family will need to band together during this difficult time and find a way to move forward.
As Bright As Heaven has a unique point-of-view with the Spanish Flu (instead of focusing on the war). The POV switches between Pauline and the three daughters (told in first person). We get to see life through each of their eyes with each person providing a unique perspective given their ages (Willa is the youngest at 6). It does, though, disrupt the flow of the book (pulls you out of the story). The book is nicely written, but I did find the pace a little slow during the first half of the story. It picks up in the second half as the girls grow older. I thought it was intriguing that Evelyn goes to medical school and is working to become a psychiatrist. This was very unusual for a woman in the 1920s. The characters are well developed, and I appreciated the strong female characters. The author did a good job at portraying the time period, the panic and horror of the Spanish Flu epidemic, how the war affected families, and the changing roles of women in America during the 1920s. As Bright As Heaven has love, sorrow, hope, grief, tragedy, fear and so much more. Get swept back in time in Susan Meisner’s latest novel As Bright As Heaven. Readers who enjoy historical dramas will enjoy reading As Bright As Heaven.
As Bright As Heaven is a compelling and beautifully written novel about grief, love, and surviving loss. This story takes place during the Spanish influenza epidemic in the city of Philadelphia. Susan Meissner brings the reader deep into the hearts and minds of the Bright family, focusing mainly on Pauline Bright, and her three daughters, Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa.
Pauline Bright was devastated after, Henry, her infant son, died. Life for the entire Bright family was never the same after losing Henry. How could it be? Pauline, however, felt death around her, like a constant companion. It never seemed to stray from her for any length of time. Pauline didn’t mind though; she wanted to understand more about this darkness that clung to her. When Pauline saw an opportunity to work with the deceased, making them as beautiful as possible before burial, she seized it. But, no matter how much the Bright family tried to heal after little Henry’s death; it was a wound that would never completely close.
During the influenza epidemic, schools, churches, and businesses all around the city closed. Dead bodies were being left outside the Bright’s funeral parlor. It didn’t matter that the funeral home was full and couldn’t accommodate any more bodies, people left them, anyway. Fear, grief, and sorrow can drive people to do things that normally, they would never, ever think of doing. It can also make them believe the lies that they told themselves, and to others, until the truth is exposed, breaking their denial.
The Great War changed people but so did the influenza epidemic. The Spanish flu swept in and devastated entire families; the same way war does. And although people’s anguish and grief were hidden, their pain and suffering was just as real and devastating as war’s tragedies and gaping wounds. Desperation and fear can drive people to make poor decisions; unfortunately, some that they’ll regret for the rest of their lives. God has a way, though, of turning even the ugliest mistakes into something beautiful. If only people could remember that during their difficult times.
Although I found the book to be slow at times, the premise, elegant writing, and emotional depth kept me captivated and turning the pages. As Bright As Heaven is a quality read. Recommended.
Thank you, Berkley Publishing and BookishFirst, for my advanced review copy.