Fallen Skies: A Novel Paperback – 2008
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Singer Lily Valance, only seventeen, is a refreshing antidote to the nightmares that have haunted Stephen since his return. Even the knowledge that she is a chorus girl is assuaged by the purity of her lovely voice and the diligence of a mother who protects her innocent daughter from male admirers. As soon as he sees Lily perform, Stephen knows she is the antidote to his fury and discontent, that Lily will heal the wounds of the past. On the cusp of a successful career, thanks to the efforts of music director and friend, Charlie Smith, Lily's path to success is clear. Suddenly Stephen is everywhere pressing his suit, shadowing Lily's every move. Intimidated by his aggressive courtship, Lily turns to Charlie, who can never make her his wife. But fate intervenes and Lily is forced into life-changing decisions in the midst of unfathomable grief.
And there is Stephen, soft-spoken, iron-willed, offering his protection and love. Lily marries her ardent suitor, thrust into a world of strict proprieties, a singing career suddenly inappropriate. And Stephen's panacea is short-lived as reality intrudes on fantasy. As a rigid mother-in-law, compassionate but helpless father-in-law and Stephen's man, the mute Coventry, struggle to adapt to the high spirits of Lily's youthful enthusiasm, the fragile hopes she has for her marriage are exposed as a sham. Lily learns first-hand the terrible cost of war, her marriage battered by upheaval and violence as a helpless Charlie watches from the outside. From love to madness, joy to despair, Gregory's characters grapple with their situations, tentative alliances, demons revealed in a tragic denouement that shatters the night. Gregory writes with a rhythm and style all her own, high drama and dense prose that wounds and expunges, human failings stripped of pretense one by one. But Lily is a survivor, a girl grown to womanhood in the harsh landscape of a deeply troubled marriage: "We've got to live no matter how many skies have fallen" (DH Lawrence). Luan Gaines/2008.
The supporting characters of Charlie, Lily's true love, Muriel, Stephen's mother and Coventry, Stephen's chauffeur/best friend are wonderfully written. I especially enjoyed Gregory's constant reference to the food that "Cook" served the family during the rigidly proscribed meal times. She ably described the societal customs of the upper middle class and how Lily constantly chafed at them.
This is not a romance novel, by any means, but a fascinating story of what happened to the generation of men who fought in World War I and the impact of this on those left on the home front.
The story focuses on the dysfunctional marriage of Lily Valance and Captain Stephen Winters. Stephen was traumatized by his service during World War I. He is clearly suffering from PTSD and other issues. Yet he refuses treatment of any kind and is plagued by nightmares. Lily marries him and she is unaware of his condition until their honeymoon.
Before she met Stephen, Lily was an up and coming singer and chorus girl. Due to personal tragedy, Lily ends up marrying Stephen to survive. As she is from the working class and the Winters family is upper class, conflicts naturally occur. Compounded with Stephen's psychological problems and misogynist attitudes and Lily's inexperience, the marriage is immediately plagued by problems. There are continual themes of marital rape. While Gregory is not graphic in her depictions, it is still distressing material.
Gregory excels at describing Stephen's remembrances of the war. She also gets into the head of all her characters. The reader understands what makes each character tick. Overall, this book is an indictment of the attitudes of the upper class. When Stephen is observing his wife while she changes their son's diaper, the present day reader understand how warped his sensibilities have become.
"Stephen gazed at the two of them in a sort of horror: at his son's innocent babyish maleness, and at Lily's confident handle of him. As if she were some kind of red-handed nurse, as if she were not a lady at all. Stephen was appalled that Lily should lower herself to be so intimate with the child. It was worse than servitude, what she chose to do. It was disgraceful that she should do it and feel no shame at being watched."
As Lily continues to assert herself, Stephen's mental health and behavior declines. It is inevitable that this marriage will end in tragedy. Gregory keeps us guessing as to who will be harmed the most. The last few chapters kept the tension building beautifully. I highly recommend this book to historical fiction and Phillipa Gregory fans even though it is very dark material.