Stew and Anne’s younger daughter—whose character is based in part on the diaries of Susan Morgan, the author’s wife—provides an engaging narrative voice for this seamless crossover of memoir and historical fiction. Descriptions of Anne and Stew’s more intimate moments are tasteful, though odd to hear about from their child’s perspective. Although the Great Depression and WWII both affect the narrative, historical events mostly fade into the background of the family’s personal struggles. Social norms of the period play a stronger influence on the story. Minor discrepancies arise during the time spent in South Africa.
An overriding sense of overcoming the odds unites the romance of part one with the more tragic circumstances of part two. Clear descriptions coupled with entertaining internal dialogue and concise, expressive characterization make the pages fly by. A marvelous narrator and eventful plot make for an entertaining and moving tale that’s sure to please readers seeking inspirational narratives about hard times in history.
Takeaway: Goodman’s unconventional blend of fact and fiction will be a hit with historical readers who like stories about overcoming adversity.
Great for fans of Edward Rohs and Judith Estrine’s Raised by the Church, Lindsey Jane Ashford’s Whisper of the Moon Moth.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B+
In November of 1955, a young man stuck dynamite in his mother’s suitcase, hoping to cash in on an insurance policy, leading to the crash of United Flight 629, which killed everyone aboard.
For author Eric Goodman, this story is personal; his wife’s parents died on that flight, and his sixth novel, “Cuppy and Stew: The Bombing of Flight 629, a Love Story,” is based in part on his wife’s journals, which she gave to Goodman as source material. He writes in the acknowledgements that during the writing he was “in simultaneous conversation with my adult wife and the grieving girl she’d been more than 50 years earlier. For me, it was thrilling and romantic.”
Thrilling and romantic can also be used to describe the arc of this book, which is divided into two parts; the first centers on the narrator’s parents and their unconventional love story. When Stew meets Anne (or “Cuppy” as he calls her, short for cupcake), she is working as a secretary for his friend. Stew already has a wife and child, but it’s a loveless marriage; his love for Cuppy drives him to abandon his family and begin a new one. They travel around the world and have two daughters, Susan and Sherry, and their double life reads like a movie — studded with secrets and global adventure.
The death of Cuppy and Stew cleaves the book in half; the second part follows newly orphaned Susan and Sherry, who try to chart a future for themselves as they cope with the loss of their parents and the shocking discovery that their father had a secret second family.
Eric Goodman, author of “Cuppy and Stew: The Bombing of Flight 629, a Love Story” Photo: IF SF Publishing
The book is narrated by the youngest daughter Susan (modeled after Goodman’s wife), who describes in great detail everything from her parents meeting (which predates her existence) to their healthy and enduring sex life. It’s not explained how she comes to know this information. She states, “I also don’t know exactly what she or my father was thinking at many of the moments I describe. But I knew them; I knew the truth of them.” She describes her mother thinking Stew’s eyes were like “smoky sunlight” upon meeting him.
The list of details and internal thoughts that the narrator invents about her parents become a persistent distraction. The rule of first-person narration is the author must limit the story to the thoughts and feelings of the narrator and her interpretation of the world around her.
Goodman seems torn between telling the book in first or third person, and this inability to wrangle the point of view leads to confusing references. The narrator refers to her parents as Cuppy and Stew, Anne and Stew, Suzanne and Stew, Mom and Dad, my parents, sometimes within the space of pages. The narrator also slips up and speaks about herself in the third person. Here she describes her mother’s love for her and her sister: “She loved the feel of Sherry’s hand in hers when they walked and the heft of Susan balanced on her hip, though by six months I would fuss-budget to be put down.” Why does the narrator describe herself as Susan and I in the same sentence?
Before they die in the plane crash, the narrator writes of her parents’ movements and thoughts, “Anne kneaded his hand between both of hers, both in the lounge and after they’d boarded” and “He checked his watch when he heard the wheels come up.”
There is no way for the narrator to know these things; it is one of hundreds of examples of breached logic. The book tries to have it both ways, with the omniscience of third person and the direct experience of first person. There are other signs of sloppiness, from the lack of standardized punctuation of internal thoughts to plain old clunkers like “She looked good in hats, Anne knew she did.” Aside from the fact that the narrator would not know her mother’s thoughts, that sentence would read better as, “Anne knew she looked good in hats.” It may seem like I’m taking up petty grievances, but a book’s downfall can simply be the sum of small mistakes and lack of editorial input.
While “Cuppy and Stew” is a tender book with memorable characters that readers will root for, it’s also a reminder that a great story doesn’t always make a great book and that editors are worth their weight in gold.