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Friday, September 17, 2010

Misery, Remembered

Bliss Remembered
Frank Deford

Overlook Press, 2010

Sydney Stringfellow Branch is dying of cancer at age 87, so she wants to tell her 62-year-old son the story of her life. Her story basically begins when she’s a teenager and she discovers that she possesses the ability and skill to become a suberb backstroke swimmer, perhaps even a female athlete phenomenon. Through a twist of fate she is invited to attend the 1936 Olympics in Berlin as part of the women’s swimming team, even though she cannot compete. While there, she falls in love with a young German named Horst, an assistant to director Leni Reifenstahl, who had been commissioned by Hitler to make a film about the games. While Sydney's escapades in Berlin bring her briefly into contact with Nazi politics, most of her time is spent with Horst, which develops into a physical love affair. Inevitably, Sydney must return to America, where she slowly initiates a move from her Eastern Shore Maryland home to New York City and then finds a job and joins the Women's Swimming Association (WSA). With her focus now on competing in the 1940 Tokyo Olympics, Sydney does not foresee that destiny and impending war will bring further surprising changes to her life – along with a secret she reveals to her son at the end of her story.

I finished this book because a secret was foreshadowed all the way through and I wanted to know what it was. Unfortunately, this secret could not save the melodramatic writing style and corny dialogue that I had to endure to ultimately find out what happened to Sydney, her husband, her lover and finally, to her son. While it was mildly interesting to learn about the Olympics in Nazi Germany, these historical details could not save the story from mediocrity, nor could it stop my eyes from rolling every time the old lady picked up the thread of her story again. I have never read anything by Frank Deford before and now that I know he’s a former sportswriter, I don’t see any reason to read anything by him again. In my opinion, sportswriters tend to overuse adjectives to foster a dramatic and theatrical description of the ordinary, and this story is no exception.


Other novels by this author:
Love and Infamy (1993)
American Summer (2002)
The Entitled: a tale of modern baseball (2007)

Other titles you may enjoy:

Hope’s Highway by Dorothy Garlock (2004)
Abandoned by Ernie Harding, who steals her life's savings, Margie Kinnard pursues her dream of becoming a movie star with the help of her long-lost father, but her goals could be sidetracked by Ernie's reappearance.

Consequences by Penelope Lively (2007)
A love story that connects the lives of three generations, Lorna and Matt who experience heartache during World War II, their daughter Molly, and their granddaughter Ruth, who begins a journey that takes her back to 1941.

The Secret by Elizabeth Gill (2007)
London, 1944: A young man is killed in an air raid, leaving a wife, two children and a secret. The man’s brother Cal persuades the family to relocate to the North East, to the town he came from. Despite their grief and bitterness, they find a new life there which will sustain them in the hard times to come.

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