A couple of months ago, my coworkers started a book group. The first month, which I missed, we read A Paper Life. (Missed is a strong word. I didn’t miss it so much as I didn’t participate in it.) Last month, we read Mr. Timothy, which is an excellent piece of historical fiction about Victorian prostitution set around Charles Dickens’s Tiny Tim all grown up. This month, we read The Children’s Blizzard and I have to say I’m more than a little disappointed.
The Children’s Blizzard is well-written. David Laskin has mastered his craft. The narrative was smooth and tight. My waning interest had nothing to do with choppy sentences or abstruse construction. This book is also well-researched. Laskin speaks about the storm with the authority that only comes from pouring over every available primary source on your subject. I like non-fiction; I read a lot of history books. And, when I complain about things from music to movies, I’m often heard saying, “Could they have hired a writer?” So, the fact that I thought it was well-written and well-researched is pretty high praise.
Here’s the rub: I spent the entire 271 pages of the main text not caring. What’s worse is that its about people dying and I don’t even feel bad about not caring. At most, all I can manage is an overly apathetic, “That sucks.”
There were sixty some pages about the genesis of the storm and a pretty detailed meteorological description of the cold wave that followed. Now, maybe this is just lost on me because I’ve lived most of my life in a prairie state. I can tell you it doesn’t just get cold here, it gets bitterly, brutally cold. The children that died would have known that, too. In fact, they would have been able to attest to the fact that the weather here in the winter is pretty much just cold, snow, super cold, ice, ten minute respite, more cold. There’s that old adage, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” What I’ve always thought that meant was, “five minutes from now, you’ll be nostalgic for the weather from five minutes ago.”