Not Our Kind
It was a dark and stormy night. Well, not really. It is however a rainy morning when our heroines meet. Eleanor Moskowitz is on the way to a job interview, frustrated by how her cab is stuck in traffic as the minutes tick away, when the impact occurs. The blow to the back of the cab pushes her into the front seat, splitting her lip and making her bleed. Patricia Bellamy is in the cab behind Eleanor and when the two are speaking to the police, she recognizes that Eleanor is in shock. She offers Eleanor lunch before learning she is Jewish and Patricia’s fine manners keep her from reneging on the offer.
Eleanor initially feels out of place in the rarefied and elegant Park Avenue apartment but quickly comes to enjoy the afternoon. Especially the time spent with Margaux, the Bellamy’s adolescent daughter who has just recently recovered from polio. With a pronounced limp and a chip on her shoulder, Margaux approaches the lunch like a pugilist but leaves it a strong fan of Eleanor’s. Delighted with how Eleanor was able to engage with her reticent, difficult daughter Patricia hires her as a tutor for Margaux, offering more than Eleanor would have made at the fancy private school she was applying to. The catch? In order to even enter the apartment building the Bellamy’s live in Eleanor must change her last name to Moss and hide the truth of her Jewish lineage.
Set in 1947, just two years after the war, Not Our Kind is an intriguing tale of love, betrayal and the depths we will go to move ahead or, at the very least, keep the status quo.
AAR staffers Shannon Dyer and Maggie Boyd share their thoughts on this complex, emotionally-rich novel.
Maggie: What drew me to this novel was both the time period and the examination of anti-Semitism after WWII. I was delighted with how well that was handled throughout the tale, showing how racism kept people from work, from love, and from simple pleasures such as going to a certain club. What inspired you to pick this for review?
Shannon: I’m a huge World War II buff, but lately, I’ve been interested in learning a bit more about what life might have been like for Jewish people after the war came to an end. When I read the blurb for Not Our Kind, I thought it might be a good place to start my exploration, and for the most part, I think I made a good choice.
Maggie: One of the strongest themes throughout the tale was the power of friendship. Patricia is at her best when surrounded with friends, Margaux blossoms from her friendship with Eleanor and the young man she meets at the lake, and Eleanor benefits greatly from making a friend of Henryka. Eleanor and Patricia’s tumultuous friendship weaves throughout the tale. I appreciated that aspect of the story, as I think such relationships have a profound effect on our lives. What did you think of that theme?
Shannon: I’m drawn to novels that focus on the way people relate to one another, and I was generally very pleased with the way this particular story handled that theme. I was a little saddened by the fact that Eleanor didn’t seem to have any really close friends of her own. Her friend Ruth seemed nice enough, but I sensed a kind of distance between them. They talked about casual things, but it was obvious Eleanor didn’t feel very comfortable discussing deeper, more important issues with Ruth.
Maggie: That’s an excellent point. Most single women have at least one close confidant, but Eleanor seemed to hold herself aloof from that. One relationship she did seem interested in pursuing was a romance. Eleanor was devastated by her recent break-up and more than happy to take up with Tom on the rebound. Technically, there are two romantic relationships in this story, although I hesitate to call Patricia and Wynn’s marriage a romance. Still, she tried several times to turn it into one, so Patricia gets an A for effort! But I didn’t like either romance. Wynn had no redeeming qualities and Tom defined the words “rake” and “cad”. What did you think of the romance here?
Shannon: Wynn is an absolutely horrible person, so there was nothing about Patricia’s relationship with him that drew me in. Initially, I was irritated with Patricia’s need to justify or ignore his boorish behavior, but she did do a lot better as the story progressed. As for Tom and Eleanor, I knew right from the start that Tom was no good for her. He had a sort of carelessness about him that bothered me. So, if people pick this up hoping for a relatable romance, I’m pretty sure they’ll be disappointed.
Maggie: I love that word choice. Careless is a perfect descriptor for Tom. You mentioned Wynn’s behavior and how long it took Patricia to deal with it. I found her husband problems both sad and infuriating. I understood why she took so long to confront him but the things he was doing were truly reprehensible. It reflected a bit badly on her that she didn’t move sooner.
Shannon: Patricia was kind of tricky for me. It’s obvious she loves Margaux fiercely, but I sometimes got the impression that her social status was more important than anything else. Her worries about what other people would think interfered with all of her central relationships, and it wasn’t until she began to experience some personal growth that I really started to like her.
Maggie: I think Patricia’s struggles with societal approval were meant to reflect how the prejudices of the era – racism against Jewish people, ostracization of divorced women – trapped people in situations they didn’t want to be in. Speaking of difficult situations, Eleanor’s behavior with Tom at the summer house struck me as extremely unprofessional. She was there as Margaux’s tutor, not a guest, and while I could understand the lines being blurred, I felt she handled that with a certain amount of immaturity. In fact, she struck me as immature overall in many ways, naïve as to men and work place politics. I was surprised to learn she was twenty-five, as her behavior seemed more in keeping with someone twenty-one or so. What did you think of her?
Shannon: I also found Eleanor a bit immature. She obviously had very little real-world experience, and while I suppose that makes some sense given the times and Eleanor’s station in life, it did make her a difficult character at times. I completely agree with you about her relationship with Tom, and I found her unwillingness to allow Patricia to talk to her about it very unprofessional as well. She seemed to think she could just do whatever she wanted, because of Margaux’s deep affection for her, and that didn’t sit at all well with me. Luckily, I found her more likable toward the end of the novel. Did your feelings about her change as the story went on?
Maggie: I felt she improved as the story progressed, but I also felt she still had some life lessons to learn. The story felt a bit unfinished in that sense. Margaux, Patricia and Eleanor all reach places of growth but I felt I was cutting out in the middle of the tale, to an extent. That said, overall, I found this book interesting, with excellent prose and well-defined characters. I also enjoyed exploring some of the themes laid out in it and loved the history and cultural exploration, but I wasn’t riveted by the story, found the pacing a bit slow and didn’t feel particularly drawn to any of the characters. My overall grade for it is B. What grade would you give it?
Shannon: I’m also giving it a B. I didn’t find the pacing problematic, but the end felt very ambiguous to me, and I’m not a big fan of books that kind of leave me hanging. I think the author is a very skilled writer, and I’d love to read something else by her someday. She has a definite knack for looking deeply into the human heart, and that’s important to me when I’m looking for a story to get lost in.