I’m pretty sure there was a crust of stale corn flakes tonight, which sounds appalling but was, in fact, a minor culinary triumph. Did you know that we’re now saving nut-shells and fruit pits for gas mask filters? Frankie Jr. has joined the local collection committee. He goes up and down the street every Tuesday to pick up from the neighbors. Pg. 95
In the sixth installment of the Kopp Sister chronicles, Stewart shows the women at war. The last book highlighted the American homefront on the brink of entering World War I. Here we see the adventures of the Kopps at war recounted via a series of letters written to one another, rather than a straight narrative. It was, at first, slightly difficult for me to find the rhythm of the story. Once I got a sense of what each sister/writer was up to, I found it to be a really clever way to tell their tale.
As a reminder for those new to the series, the Kopp Sisters were real, though these book are largely fictional (but based on real events). Constance Kopp, in this book, is a detective for the Bureau of Investigation, tracking down potential spies and saboteurs. Fleurette has joined a proto-USO group and is criss-crossing the country entertaining the soldiers. Norma is in France, trying to convince the Allies to invest in her homing pigeon program.
Stewart manages to capture the individual personality of each sister, as well as the other writers. And while the situations are serious — trench warfare, spy catching, codebreaking, grueling travel — the book maintains humor and levity.
I’ve only just received Aggie’s letter about the wayward soldiers and the pig farmer’s daughter. She is the literary sensation in Mrs. Spinella’s parlor. I’m sorry to say it, Norma, but we’re a bit disappointed that you put a stop to the soldiers visiting the little cafe in the pig barn. We just know that there’s further intrigue to be had there, if you could only turn your back long enough to let it happen. ~Pg. 77
Stewart is also adept at immersing the characters into events of the day without it reading like a history thesis project. There are glimpses of a coming influenza pandemic, early photography, communication technology, the founding of the FBI — even winks to the coming vote for women. Details like these are baked into the narrative and serve to paint the picture so well. This is where Stewart’s writing shines.
I do hope to see the sisters reunite at the farm in Paterson, at least briefly, before they embark on the wild early 1920s of flappers and flyboys, architecture and archaeology, suffrage and speakeasies.
My thanks to HMH Books for the advanced review copy. I’m also a proud member of the Kopp Sister Literary Club.
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (January 12, 2021)
Hardcover: 320 pages