Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Book Review: The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
Author: Ann Packer
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Content Alert: Some swearing
Bill Blair, a pediatrician from Michigan, came to Northern California after his service in the Korean War and fell in love. He fell in love with a place, actually, and chose a local woman, Penny, to share it with. As the years pass, they raise their four children to adulthood in an idyllic home near Palo Alto, but their relationship flounders. Years later, after Bill dies and Penny moves to New Mexico, this relationship colors the way the adult children live their lives.
I saw one reviewer say that The Children's Crusade reminded them a lot of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. While I think that's true, I think that Franzen's characters were generally unlikeable, while I saw things to like in all of the Blairs. I love that Bill is a wonderful, very involved father (in an era when many fathers were not) and a caring doctor, but not a particularly empathetic husband. It would be easy to write Penny off as uninvolved or inflexible (she never quite gets over getting pregnant with a fourth child and retreats to a backyard art studio instead of engaging with her kids), but instead I recognized that I feel a lot of those same impulses. Packer also does a lovely job fleshing out the lives of all four children, and of making the place the Blairs loved so well a central character in the novel.