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“On March 7, 1913, the steamer Alum Chine explodes in the Baltimore harbor. Charles Sherwood, the founder of the company that insures the steamer, is among the first to hear the blast. As he struggles to keep calm, Charles suspects that if it is the Alum Chine that has been decimated, he is now in the midst of a nightmare. While he attempts to cope with the consequences that include his son’s diffidence to the calamity, the disaster touches two other families. Helen Aylesforth is the imperious matriarch of her family whose stern demeanor belies her love for those around her, including her daughter, Cantata, who is married to Nicholas Sherwood. The Corporals have served the Aylesforths for generations. Among their six-member family is Lillian Gish, Helen’s shy, forgotten, and observant granddaughter who must somehow find her place in the world, despite the chaos around her.”
This is not an action, page-turner of a novel, except for the explosion of the ship nothing much actually happens … but … this is a story of ordinary people coping with extraordinary consequences. The story is of two families, of how they lived life in Baltimore in the early years of the twentieth century, and had to get on with that life even though enormous things were happening all around and to them.
The description of the period and of Baltimore itself is very well written – as a social history this is an excellent novel, but as character development or an action novel, maybe it doesn’t quite hit the mark?
However, do you need constant action to make a novel an interesting one? Echoes From The Alum Chine has a gentle and sedate rhythm to it, the relationships between the two families is interesting, how they cope is interesting ... as a depiction of family drama in the pre-World War One era of American life, this is an interesting read.
© Ellen Hill
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