Friday, January 15, 2016

The Silver Suitcase by Terrie Todd

Rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 1, 2016

It’s 1939, and Canada is on the cusp of entering World War II. Seventeen-year-old farm girl Cornelia is heartbroken when she learns that her beloved soldier, Henry, has been killed in a train wreck. Alone and carrying a heavy secret, she makes the desperate choice that will haunt her for years to come. Never telling a soul, Cornelia pours out the painful events of the war in her diary. Many decades later, Cornelia’s granddaughter, Benita, is in the midst of her own crisis, experiencing several losses in the same week, including her job and the grandmother she adored. The resulting emotional and financial stress takes its toll on her and her husband, Ken, who is also unemployed. On the brink of divorce, she discovers Cornelia’s diary. Now the secrets of her grandmother’s past will lead Benita on an unexpected journey of healing, reunion, and renewed faith.

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I took note of Terrie Todd’s The Silver Suitcase the moment I laid eyes on it. The jacket description, with its reference to a war era diary, teased my imagination and sparked enough curiosity that I flagged the book as a must read for 2016. I’d never heard of the author and I’d no real expectations going in, but I soon realized that my excitement was severely misplaced.

Structurally, The Silver Suitcase is an absolute nightmare. I understand the contemporary story surrounding Benita, but I felt Todd’s treatment of Cornelia redundant. Todd illustrates her heroine’s experiences as they unfold, only to reiterate much of the same material in the character’s diary entries. As a reader I found the format maddening and admit I struggled with the verbose nature of Todd’s execution.

Todd’s tendency to jump into the superfluous and obscure doesn’t help matters. The early chapters of the novel chronicle Cornelia’s teenage years, but the journals Benita discovers take Todd’s audience back to Cornelia’s childhood. Why? I wish I could say, but the rationale eludes me. Why did Todd hone in on a turn of the century ice cream maker? How is the disjointed epilogue even plausible under the circumstances? Why should I have cared about random people reading journal entries they couldn't possibly understand? Why did the author switch narrators to feature Miriam for a single scene halfway through the narrative? Again, I am at a loss.

The author obviously knows where she is taking her story, but she doesn’t develop her characters or chain of events for her audience. Many of the cast members experience emotional outbursts that are wholly irrational to the reader because Todd fails to establish their situations ahead of time. Ken’s anger and Cecil Black’s antagonistic hatred don’t make the least bit of sense and I found Grace’s response to Benita’s announcement equally illogical. The revelation surrounding Miriam is coincidental, but it lacks any sort of power as Todd omits the character from the bulk of the narrative. I hate to be blunt, but I found the end result sloppy and unconvincing.

Take a look at the jacket description. “Never telling a soul, Cornelia pours out the painful events of the war in her diary.” Spoiler alert folks, but Todd’s story doesn’t relate to WWII. Henry is a soldier when he dies, but he could have been written onto a train for any number of reasons with the same result and the only other scene that relates to the conflict is Cornelia’s attendance at a victory celebration. Again, the festivities could have related to anything and taken place at any other time. Cornelia pours out the painful events of her life in her diary. Period.

Bottom line here is that I feel I wasted my time on The Silver Suitcase. Todd’s characterizations, plot, structure, and writing style failed me in every sense and I can’t see myself recommending the title forward.

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Benita sat back in her chair again, her heart pounding. Oh my gosh. This really is a treasure, she thought. Where do I start? But even as she asked the question, she knew the answer. She would start at the beginning, and read every word her grandmother had written, in chronological order.
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