Tiny Little Thing
I’ve been very excited to see the recent trend towards books set in the 1950s and 60s since I love the charm and glamour of these eras. Naturally, when I saw that Tiny Little Thing takes place in that time frame I jumped at the chance to review it. I’m glad I did as it evokes all the enchantment, hopefulness and rebelliousness I associate with the Camelot years and the time immediately following them.
Christina “Tiny” Hardcastle has always been the perfect woman. Perfectly lovely. A perfectly dutiful daughter. A perfect hostess. Perfectly photogenic. Perfect candidate’s wife. The summer of 1966 was to see all of that change.
The summer starts out in a perfectly normal manner. The season has just gotten underway at the family estate at Cape Cod. Frank, Tiny’s husband, has had a major boost to his public profile in the form of his Vietnam war-hero cousin Major Caspian “Cap” Harrison. Frank stands proudly beside Cap as the man receives a medal from the President, basking in the reflected glory. Tiny watches from the Cape, recovering from a miscarriage and for reasons of her own anxious to keep her distance from Cap.
It is with some trepidation therefore that she welcomes Cap to the estate the day after the ceremony. It is with dismay that she finds he is accompanied by her charming, acerbic, unconventional sister Pepper. Adding to Tiny’s growing sense of unease is the “guest” she receives in the mail – an envelope containing incriminating photos from her one indiscretion in the past. Looking about her Tiny realizes that all the ingredients for a perfect storm have just landed on her doorstep at the worst possible time- just as Frank is launching a bid for a Senate seat.
Tiny’s worries quickly come to fruition. At a family dinner honoring Caspian, Frank’s brother in law calls him a killer, insults Tiny and a fist fight ensues destroying the meal and undermining its purpose. This blow up is just the beginning though. Tiny quickly realizes that “the glossy façade on which the Hardcastle family’s ambitions are built” has absolutely no substance beneath it. Instead what lies below are lies, scandals and a secret that will bring all she held dear imploding around her.
Readers will quickly realize that we have just been introduced to a facsimile of the Kennedys as we meet sporty sister Connie, tyrannical Granny Hardcastle and the crusty, controlling patriarch Franklin. The lush but properly shabby estate, the abundant but undiscussed wealth and the glamour of a vigorous, handsome, charismatic young politician in the person of Frank let us know who we are really looking at.
The author does a good job however of capturing the essence of that family while creating unique, multi-layered characters of her own. Tiny may have Jackie Kennedy’s beauty, charm and sophistication but her decisions are different than those her historical counterpart makes. Frank, too, is a different person from Jack. Slightly more naïve and idealistic, his proclivities and problems contrast with what the real man faced. Most importantly, we have the addition of Caspian who throws a wrench into the marriage of the golden couple and reminds us of how deceiving appearances can be.
For those that haven’t guessed it by now, Cap and Tiny have a history. From the start of the story we see that Cap and Tiny have a relationship that is far deeper and more “real” than what Tiny and Frank have. Cap loves Tiny for who she is; for Frank, it is far more about what she represents. There is a scene in chapter three which gives a nice foreshadowing of that fact. Tiny is eating breakfast and catches her father in law staring at her. “What is it?” she asks.
”Nothing in particular,” he says. “Just that you’re really the perfect wife. Frank’s lucky to have you.” He reaches for his newspaper and flicks it back open. “We’re just lucky to have you in the family.”
Readers will think often about that moment as they hear about Tiny and Frank’s long courtship and his seeming reluctance to get engaged. As they learn, along with Tiny, just what secrets the family keeps and as they see just how desperately the image, which is far removed from the reality, of the Hardcastles must be maintained at all costs.
While Cap and Tiny don’t have a physical affair, he provides the emotional catalyst for Tiny’s change. The history between them, revealed very slowly in short flashback chapters, gives a nice depth to the relationship. Of real import to me was the fact that Tiny and Frank’s marriage wasn’t just tossed into the wind while she explored her feelings for Cap. It is clear that she puts the marriage first and desperately wants it to work. Cap is very mindful of and respectful of that.
I liked too that the author took the time to explain why Tiny’s character was the way it was. We get plenty of insight into how her parent’s marriage informed her own.
And I loved the way the politics are handled. Primarily, we learn what a campaign is like and what the life of a politician is mostly about. (Hint – it’s not their ideology.) We get a good look at what it is like to run for office. We are not inundated with the author’s beliefs or who she would vote for or why. I appreciated that.
Overall the book has some intriguing mysteries, fascinating characters and a nicely developed romance. For me the only weaknesses were that I couldn’t quite forget I was looking at a facsimile of the Kennedy family nor could I connect with any of the characters. The author did all the right things but the story still managed to feel a little flat to me.
Not necessarily a weakness but obvious none the less is the role of Pepper introducing us to her sequel. She plays a somewhat important role in the story and comes to Tiny’s rescue more than once but at the same time I still felt that her main role was to be introduced for the next book.
That said, this is far more interesting and well written than much of what is on the market. If you are intrigued by what I have said even just a little bit, I would encourage you to pick up Tiny Little Thing. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.