A Family for the Titanic Survivor
Lauri Robinson’s A Family for the Titanic Survivor has a decent grasp on the times and pretty good research going for it, but the reactions of two of its characters to the tragedy is incredibly implausible, and its lack of true tension works against it in the end.
It’s 1912, and Irish immigrant and barmaid Bridget McGowen’s family has just finished saving the money for her voyage to America. It was her father’s dying wish that she open a boarding house – just as her now well-off cousin did – in Chicago, and Bridget is determined to fulfill his dreams.
Yet misfortune plagues her. First her blarney-speaking uncle steals her money and buys himself a ticket on the Titanic with it, which she shames him into giving her in front of all of the patrons at the family pub. Secondly – it’s the Titanic. Yep, Bridget is there when the boat scrapes an iceberg, splits in half, and kills hundreds.
But Bridget manages to make it through the disaster thanks to some lucky connections. First, she meets little Elsie Wingard, whose family works in the banking industry. She saves Elsie’s doll Betsy, and endears herself to Elsie, her mother and father. Four days into the trip, she’s asked to babysit for Elsie for the Wingards, and happens to be watching the girl when the tragedy occurs. She saves Elsie’s life by getting her on a boat and sticks with her until the Carpathia picks them up.
Karl Wingard is Elsie’s favorite uncle and upon the death of his brother and sister-in-law, became her guardian. Karl is in deep mourning for his lost family but delighted at Elsie’s survival, and he employs Bridget – no questions – asked as the girl’s new nanny while her old one (fortunate enough to have not been on the Titanic due to a broken foot) recovers in England.
Karl becomes involved in the passionate pursuit of the truth as to what happened to his brother and family via a public inquiry, at which Bridget testifies. When his mother surfaces after abandoning him and his brother years ago – except for birthday visits – he thinks she sees the dollar signs that come attached to Elsie. As he grows closer to Bridget and she puts down New York roots among her fellow survivors, Karl must learn to forgive his mother so he can have a future with Bridget.
A Family for The Titanic Survivor is a Titanic romance that functions decently enough, but lacks heat between its main participants and provides only a poorly-sketched figure in Elsie.
Bridget is formed, though not defined, by her experiences. She is haunted by the memories of what she witnessed during the sinking, and is traumatized enough to have blocked out a few memories, enough to have her recollections of what happened called into question at the inquiry (she claims she saw a rescue boat pass by the then-still-living survivors, something disputed by employees from the White Star Line, as it was at the actual inquiry). I liked that activism was an important part of the person she became, and that she had to learn how to balance her loyalty to the household with her loyalty to those who had lived through such terrible experiences.
Karl is driven by his mother’s abandonment – both to cling to Elsie, and to avoid marriage permanently. His mother initially seems like a horrible person, but turns out to have had her reasons, which dilutes the tension between them.
The mood of the book in general is too light-hearted – though the tone Robinson strikes during the inquiry trial is just right – especially for Karl and Bridget’s romance, which is so light and fluffy it floats like a feather, touched with yearning and is yet a little bloodless. The class differences between Bridget and Karl feel too easily surmounted, in ways that wouldn’t stop mattering until well after the Second War swept through the world. No one close to Karl makes much of a deal of this rich man marrying a barmaid from Ireland, though the book briefly mentions the class snobbery on the Titanic itself. By the end, New York society has warmly opened its arms to Bridget.
The worst part of the book is Elsie’s non-reaction to her parent’s death, which is very poorly handled. She seems to mostly care about Betsy and New Pretty Alive Mommy…I mean, nanny, Bridget, and Uncle Karl. She gets a dog to play with so it can be cute and push Bridget and Karl together, she clings to Bridget, she’s talked ABOUT instead of to. The author’s more interested in giving Bridget and Karl a ready-made family than on having them doing their homework on how small kids react to death.
A Family for the Titanic Survivor isn’t bad but is fairly uneven; definitely not my favorite Harlequin of the year, but a perfectly all right read.