From Across the Room by Gina L. Mulligan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The art of letter writing is brought to life as a narrative in the historical romance novel “From Across the Room” by Gina Mulligan. Though poorly titled, the novel has a sweetness to it with Thomas trying to find a way to be with Mary despite his writing career.
Thomas Gadwell is walking the streets of 1880s San Diego when he sees a woman chasing a vagrant running down the road with her purse. Without seeing anyone else assisting in the chase, Thomas joins in to talk to the gun-toting vagrant to return the purse to the woman. After they successfully get the purse back. Thomas finds himself smitten with the woman, who is Mary Harting, the daughter of controversial railway king Charlton Harting. Thomas, a writer working on his second novel, recognizes the Harting name with not revealing the financial fraud rumors he heard about Charlton. While in California, Thomas begins to secretly go out with Mary. Once she introduces him to her father, Mary is taken aback that her father doesn’t approve of Thomas because of his writing career, which is seen as unstable for a man who would have to provide for a family. Charlton’s hate for Thomas throws the writer into a tailspin as he approaches deadlines for his novel while traveling back and forth to his home in Newport, Rhode Island. Amid the budding courtship, Charlton finds a rising star at his company, Lowell Kennard, to occupy Mary, but Thomas fights back with hiring an investigator to dig up dirt on Lowell. While trying to win Mary’s heart with her father’s approval, Thomas is hit with deadlines after his novel doesn’t sell to the publisher and his own father, whom he shares a troubled relationship, falls ill. Thomas purposely befriends his new neighbor in Newport, Abigail Winchester, an older woman who loves to host guests, in order to eventually bring Mary to his home. They court in secret there when Mary reveals Lowell had proposed the night before she boarded the ship. This revelation induces a fight where Mary leaves the next night back to California. In frustration, Thomas chastises the investigator for taking so long to find anything criminal in Lowell’s past. He terminates the contract until he puts the pieces together. Once he figures out who the true Lowell is, Thomas learns Mary has been attacked while on her way to teach English to Polish immigrants. He rushes to her bedside and learns his fate with her.
The novel is entirely written through letters penned by Thomas to Mary, his mother, his father, his literary agent, his college roommate, the investigator, and others as he tells the story of how he is trying to win Mary’s heart. Some letters are long and others are short, but this creative way to show the story made it move quicker. Once he asks his mother to interpret one of Mary’s letters, so we get a glimpse of letter written to him.
A running element in the novel is the role of the man and what it means to be a suitable husband and father. Thomas had chosen a noveling career back as an undergrad at Harvard, and his father never agreed to the idea. Thomas’ novels depict romances, so his work is seen as unmanly. Throughout the novel, in the letters, he describes his thorny relationship with his father all based on his choice of career. But then he’s also dealing with Mary’s father, who shares the same philosophy and doesn’t want Thomas to court his daughter. Because of the 1888 time frame, Mary feels conflicted about her father not welcoming Thomas and pushing Lowell onto her. While she convinces her father that she wants to be with Thomas, she is being forced on dates with Lowell. With these men pulling her in different directions, she wonders where she stands in a world where her father wants to make the decision of who she loves for her.
The always-timely issue of mmigration becomes a minor theme in the novel with Mary bringing Thomas one day to a Polish family’s home where she taught the family English. There, Thomas sees the Polish girl had her leg brutally cut off due to a frostbite infection and the family living in small quarters on a questionable side of town. He is in awe of Mary’s benevolence but warns her about her surroundings and how she should be escorted in and out of the home every time she comes. Mary gets upset about the warning, but soon she does get attacked. There’s another moment during the fight in Newport where Mrs. Winchester sees Mary is upset, so Mary lies that her tears are for the immigrant children.
“From Across the Room” is a pleasant read that lets a love story unfold through a man’s heartfelt letters.
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From Across the Room by Gina L. Mulligan