First off–that gorgeous cover! I loved it. I could just see my Grandmother’s dressed like that! Second–the authors. I’ve loved their past collaborations: Last Christmas in Paris and Meet Me in Monaco–the latter is the main reason I was sooooo anxious to read or listen to this book.
Two twenty-something sisters have gone their separate ways on their separate paths. One is a typical debutante-type engaged to the rich sort of man and living the right sort of life. The other, inspired by the family’s friend, fabled journalist Nellie Bly (second book this year to mention her) is a Katherine Hepburn-ish, slacks-wearing, wanna-be journalist. In 1937 Hamptons estates I need not mention which daughter was doing the “right” thing, do I? In comes Grandma’s last wish. She wants them to hand-deliver a few letters in Europe. The tickets are booked on the Queen Mary, the Orient Express, and then back home on, you guessed it, The Hindenberg! (“Oh the humanity!” I screamed). All sorts of family secrets (most extremely predictable) will be revealed along the way.
Where to start? The family secerts? One was so common in historical fiction now that it was like the free space on a bingo card. I guess the other big one straight away. (Ok I was wrong about one thing, sister x did not echo Captain Von Trapp and get the nice air steward on the Hindenberg to flee the Nazis with her.). Then there are the lessons supposedly learned in this “coming of age” novel. The most profound thought either woman offers on the good travel has done them is that [something like this–I’m not going back to find the exact quote] “when one journey ends, another begins.” Seriously.
I was very disappointed in this book. This pair of authors write much better than this. This was just not of the caliber of their other joint ventures. Historical fiction pet peeve after pet peeve reared its ugly head in this one. They arrive in Vienna to eat…brats and kraut? Like in Milwaukee? UGH. An American who wants to be a crusading journalist, who is constantly reading the papers, always butting in and asking what folks think of political situations, who is fascinated by the Nazi rally (in Austria) is “outraged” by the treatment of a Jewish person, but who apparently never noticed the lynchings at home everywhere during this time period? In an America where anti-semitism and even Nazi-sympathies were still very common (hello, America First movement) to the point that the persecuted Jews applying for asylum were lucky to get the most cursory of hearings and were almost never given a visa? That was the end of this book for me ( though I did finish it). Sanitizing language and giving woke-ish phrases in the mix does not make historical fiction somehow “better.” It cheapens it. (No, no, no, I do not mean go back to racial slurs or anything like that, the language change was minor). Gaynor and Webb are so much better than this–I am guessing for once an editor was involved.
Three Words for Goodbye was not “awful.” it was not “bad.” It just wasn’t on par with Gaynor and Webb’s other collaborations. Predictable plot, flat, stereotyped characters, unsurprising family secrets–nothing here was worthy of the pair. I did think the part covering the Hindenberg trip almost reached something to be proud of in terms of atmosphere. Almost. I finished it out of loyaty to the authors and with the hope that after Meet Me in Monaco their publisher DEMANDED something to make quick money off of and this was all they had time to cobble together around writing their solo books. Writing is very hard work. It takes time. Good books are rarely just “churned out.” I want to be fair. Both are excellent writers. This was not excellent. It was, however, sadly what is becoming typical women’s historical fiction of today. “Dumbed down” is a good phrase to describe it. It was ‘ok.’
Nonetheless, I am looking forward to their next book already and am hoping they regain their joint stride and are given time to work their true magic with words.
Three Words for Goodbye by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
P.S. I must have zoned out when the title was explained. I still do not know if it meant Au Voir, Arrivederci, and Auf Wiedersehen (since they traveled to France, Italy, and Austria) or…what? [And yes, I could hear the Von Trapp Family kids singing the goodnight song as I typed this].
That’s a generous verdict due to my fondness for their past work.