A lookery at “A Place We Knew Well” by Susan Carol McCarthy

A Place We Knew well

A Place We Knew Well

Susan Carol McCarthy

Bantam

September 29, 2015

272 pages

$27.00

It is mid-October, 1963. Homecoming Week in the sleepy town of College Park, Florida. Unbeknownst to the locals, it is also the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis. A Place We Knew Well by Susan Carol McCarthy drops the reader into the middle of the terrifying events that held the nation captive for weeks.

Wes Avery is a veteran of World War II, and has seen firsthand the complete devastation wrought by the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He owns a Texaco gas station on the main road in and out of town. Not far from the location of his business is the McCoy Air Force Base, which is suddenly much more active than usual.

Charlotte, Wes’ shy, intelligent, Titian-tressed daughter has just been informed that she will be on the high school’s Homecoming Court. Meanwhile, her mother Sarah is frantically trying to cope with the pressure of putting on a bomb shelter display for the local Civil Defense show. And the micro-managing Women’s Club president is driving her crazy with the task.

Emilio Alvarez is one of the Cuban “Pedro Pans” — a program sponsored by the Catholic Church to get youngsters out of Castro’s Cuba. Emilio works for Wes at the Texaco station and attends the local parochial high school.

President Kennedy defines the crisis for the entire country on television and radio. Bordering the Orlando Strategic Air Command Base, all of the Cape Canaveral area is especially anxious and alert. The local residents are either fleeing the area, stockpiling supplies or trying to maintain an atmosphere of normalcy as College Park prepares for the Homecoming festivities and the Civil Defense show. Romances blossom, marriages are strained, others can’t handle the intense pressure of the crisis and other events, and a deep, dark, secret raises its ugly head to threaten the delicate peace of the Avery family.

The author lets us in on the townies’ efforts to remain normal in exceptionally abnormal circumstances. The terror of the time is evident, and McCarthy exposes the emotions of her characters’ strife, trust, camaraderie, fear, anxiety and frayed nerves. Life in the quiet town continues as it brings out the best and the worst qualities of its citizens. During a national emergency, Susan Carol McCarthy shows how human strengths and frailties exist and struggle side by side. Gifts of generosity are evident, as well as selfish, self-serving acts.

In A Place We Knew Well human nature is put to the test by extraordinary circumstances. Susan Carol McCarthy uses this small community to give readers a glimpse of just how frightening these few weeks were for the entire country. Her novel shows the big picture of the Cuban Missile Crisis with the story of a small town in the midst of the stand-off. McCarthy’s talent lies in her ability to bring to life just how heroic and flawed we can be during dangerous times. I thoroughly enjoyed reading A Place We Knew Well, and highly recommend this insightful novel to all with little or great knowledge of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

With thanks to NetGalley and Bantam for an advance copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.