“The Pieces We Keep,” by Kristina McMorris, Kinsington Books, NY, 439 pages, $15


It’s 2012 in Oregon. Devon, Audra’s husband, dies tragically in his 30s, leaving his wife to raise Jack, their son (age 8).

Jack experiences night terrors (nightmares), during which he says things that seem to reflect his existence in a former life.

Audra, a nonbeliever in things supernatural, struggles to understand and cope.

It’s 1939 in London. Vivian is romantically entangled with Isaak Jacob Hemel, an American of German ancestry, with family members in Nazi Germany. Vivian enlists the aid of FBI agent Gerard.

The family members are rescued, but Isaak is taken into custody as a German agent and reportedly tried and executed.

But he has left Vivian pregnant. She and Gene fall in love, and he accepts the child when it is born as his own. Her name is Judith.

The author tells Audra and Vivian’s stories in alternate chapters, and the reader is captivated by the prose that flows along like a gentle river.

We learn that Meredith and Robert, Devon’s parents, fear Jack’s bruises are because abuse and sue his mother, their daughter-in-law, for custody of Jack.

But she is guilty only of being a good mother to a child who hurts himself while flailing about during night terrors. Jack’s grandparents eventually see the light and relent.

When Sean comes into Audra’s life, she senses the possibility of personal happiness, and Jack is attracted to him. The reader wants to cheer for their possibilities.

Vivian and Gene do not survive to encounter Audra in the 21st century, but Judith, their daughter, does, and in the end, the two narratives join. We learn what happens to Gene’s sister, Luanne, an old woman in 2012, and we learn what happened to Isaak when he returned to Germany.

Best of all, we learn all of this, as well as a good deal about World War II, through the engrossing prose of Kristina McMorris. She makes it easy to identify with the characters and care about what happens to them.

She stimulates our interest at the end of each chapter, but we can’t go on with the story until we read an interesting chapter about the other characters at a very different time.

That is occasionally frustrating, though in the end the logic of the alternating chapters is acceptable and even stimulating.

It’s easy to recommend this beautifully written novel contrasting worlds apart that somehow connect and fuse.

Melvyn Schreiber is a physician at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Melvyn Schreiber’s essays are now available as a paperback book (without the book reviews and opera reviews). If you want one, send $15 to him at 12 E. Dansby, Galveston, TX 77551, and he will mail a copy to you. It’s not heavy enough to press your trousers with, but it may please you in other ways.

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