Review: A Life Apart

A Life Apart by L.Y. Marlow

Broadway Books, 2014.  Trade paperback, 443 pages.

A Life Apart CoverMorris Sullivan is a white native Bostonian who joined the U.S. Navy in 1940.  Injured during the attack on Pearl Harbor, he is saved by Robert Dobbins, an African-American seaman.  After recuperating from his injuries, Morris attempts to track Robert down to thank him.  However, upon finding out that Robert had died, Morris locates Robert’s sister’s address and writes to thank her instead.  Upon his return to Boston on leave to visit his family, Morris pays Beatrice Dobbins a visit.  She is living and working in Roxberry, a Boston neighborhood, while earning a teaching degree.  Soon they begin a regular correspondence.  Upon his return to Pearl Harbor, Morris also strikes up a friendship with Robert’s best friend, Bernard.  Both the correspondence and friendship last until the war ends.

The next part of the story takes place during the Civil Rights era.  After years with no contact, Morris and Beatrice re-encounter each other at President-Elect Kennedy’s acceptance speech.  Shortly thereafter they begin meeting weekly at a local park.  Eventually, something happens that changes their lives forever.  In the third part of the book, we see how the consequences of what happened changed their lives, sometimes for the better and sometimes in ways that led to heartbreak.  Throughout, we see Morris’ strained relationship with his wife, Agnes, and daughter, Emma, and how Beatrice clings to her faith.  In a surprising, yet heartfelt, twist near the books end, readers see how one act of kindness can led to forgiveness.

This heart-wrenching story of forbidden love was elegantly written.  Marlow uses well-written descriptions to illustrate the people, locations, and feelings.  I also likes how she wrote Morris’ character as forward-thinking by removing the color barrier in his relationships.  If there were more people like him, perhaps segregation could have ended sooner. However, there are those in Beatrice’s community who frowned on her contact with Morris because they fear she would somehow be hurt. When Marlow wrote about the hardships Beatrice and her family faced in the South when she was growing up or that Sam and Sadie Mae experienced when Boston’s schools were integrated, the reader felt the characters’ pain and struggles; it will likely be the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing the harshness of segregation.  Additionally, Marlow used the dialog well to establish the characters-the white Bostonians speak perfect English while the African-Americans, even those long in the North, still had traces of Southern phrasing and expressions.  Lastly, the title was perfect:  society keeps Morris and Beatrice apart while Morris also drifts apart from Agnes.  It also aptly describes the lives of the characters whom did not connect until the story’s end or whom drifted away only to reconnect later.

In the book’s introduction, Marlow explains that she wrote this novel while her mother fought a losing battle with cancer.  It is clear that the feelings of losing a loved one were incorporated into this book, especially when a character passed, fought a long illness, or Morris’ and Beatrice’s thoughts when they were apart.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.  This is a new program.  And for the purposes of this Amy’s Scrap Bag, I’ll be posting any reviews from this program as they are completed, separate from regularly scheduled posts.  I hope if any of you choose to read this novel that you might share your thoughts and experiences with a comment.

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