There's just something about the glamour, elegance, and excess of the 1920's. Put it all on an ocean liner plying the waters between Paris and New York and it becomes totally delectable. Of course, not everyone lived the way that the upper classes did. There had to be hard-working servants to maintain the facade of the leisure classes. Underneath the waterline among the masses was a hard place to be. Dana Gynther's new novel Crossing on the Paris takes readers into the lives of three different women on three different levels of one such ship as the newly launched Paris makes its maiden voyage from Le Havre to New York.
Covering the five days of the trans-Atlantic journey, the novel follows Vera Sinclair, Constance Stone, and Julie Vernet. Vera, traveling in first class, is a wealthy, elderly woman who is dying of breast cancer. She's an American who has lived in Paris for the past 30 years but she's decided to return to New York to die. Constance Stone, a married mother of three young children traveling in second class, is a headed home after a solitary and unsuccessful trip to Paris to try and convince her free-spirited younger sister to go home and perhaps jar their mother out of the disturbing psychotic episode she has been sunk in for the past six months. Julie Vernet is a young French woman working her first job as a waitress in steerage. After losing all of her older brothers in the first World War, she is remorseful at leaving her grieving and silent parents but eager for her own life to start, especially when a handsome engine room worker seems to find her attractive despite the obvious dark birthmark above her lip.
Although each of the women is staying in a different part of the ship and having what one character comes to recognize as a very individual crossing shared only tangentially by the other thousands of passengers and crew on board, they keep crossing paths with each other throughout the 5 day journey. Each of the women weaves the tale of her life before boarding into the narrative of her days on board ship so that they each have a fully rounded history. Most of the days are quite uneventful, although Julie has to work long and hard on each of them as the other two do not, and so each of the women has time for much self-reflection. Vera thinks back on her past and her extremely limited future, wondering how and if she should offer her tale of a life lived on her own terms for posterity. Constance, finding herself falling for the debonair and charming ship's doctor, reflects on her marriage, the ways in which she has always done what was expected of her, and what shape she wants her life to take from here on out. Julie, innocent and naive, allows the excitement of the promise of a relationship and the momentary escape from the drudgery of her position to lead her into a dangerous situation she cannot control.
Vera, Constance, and Julie all ruminate on love and relationship in their lives. They each consider familial and romantic love, what is truly real and what only passes for real for a fleeting moment. And they also think on the future and how the promise of one future or another drives so many decisions in life. The characters, despite their economic disparity, are ultimately more similar than different. Gynther has created likable and well-rounded characters whose stories intertwine believably. She's drawn the differences in station well through the use of the different amenities on the ship and the outward appearance of each level of the boat. Each chapter of the book focuses only on one contained day of the short crossing but sometimes it feels as if it covers a greater time period given the depth of feeling and the dramatic happening, especially with regards to Julie. And although there would seem to be little scope for much to happen, the crossing fundamentally changes each of the three women and how they think about themselves. A quick and engaging read, this will certainly please historical fiction fans looking for their next book.
For more about Dana Gynther and the book, visit her website, her Facebook page, or her author page at the publisher.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.