“There’s a lot of stories here when you peel back the layers.”
“Eminent Souls” by Sean Sweeney embodies this quote.
This is by no means my first dig into Mr. Sweeney’s work. I have read (and enjoyed) several of his books. Hell, I’ve even reviewed a few of them on here, but this is the first time I can honestly say I “saw Sean.”
Sean is an amazing writer, and cranks out a ton of material (about 6 books a year if I remember correctly from an interview I read) but the majority of what he writes (or at least what I have read) has been mass-market appeal thrillers. So when I agreed to read Eminent Souls (because I know he’s talented, not because I actually read the synopsis – lazy me) that is what I expected. High-octane, no holds barred, in your face action. Instead I got a Romeo and Juliet-esq love story (minus the death of course…) set in a city that (until now) I gave very little thought to.
It is June 1953. The Boston Braves have left for Milwaukee, and the Korean Conflict nears its completion. And Scollay Square, Boston’s illustrious entertainment district, is nearing its demise.
Charlene Phillips is a young Boston Brahmin lady whose mother has forbidden her to go to Scollay Square, its gin mills and burlesque houses. But on the urging of her friends, Charlene goes to the Crawford House. On stage is a young Italian singer, Joe Cafario. Joe is everything Charlene’s parents detest – Italian, Catholic, poor. In time, the pair fall in love – until forced apart by Charlene’s father.
Time passes and the two reconnect in 1961 – right before the city unveils plans to rehabilitate Scollay Square via the eminent domain process. Joe and Charlene join forces to fight the city of Boston and to prevent the city from making their meeting place unrecognizable, all in the name of “progress.”
Set during the waning years of Scollay Square – now known as Government Center in the heart of Downtown Boston – EMINENT SOULS is a boy meets girl tale that centers on love, loss, and what one run-down section of sloping hillside meant to two young people in the 1960s.
The puff of this story is Charlene and Joe’s forbidden love. Two love-bird, overbearing father…yada yada, you get my point. But the lust and heartache that surrounded their quest to be together is not what held my attention. The story of Scollay Square did (which brings me back to Vetsch’s quote about stories and layers.)
Eminent Souls was a history lesson. A beautifully sculpted history lesson, but a history lesson all the same. And while I’m not usually a big fan of landmark name dropping and disgruntled natives (which Joe and Carlie are) in this book I didn’t seem to mind. Maybe it had something to do with Carlie and Joe’s story flowing along effortlessly while the impending doom of their beloved hometown tumbled around them. Maybe it had something to do with the lively and endearing cast of characters that made their livings inside of the same buildings that Carlie and Joe were so connected too. Maybe I’m just getting old and I’m starting to like history that doesn’t involve (just) Al Capone or Auschwitz. Who knows…the fact of the matter is, I didn’t feel like I was going to be quizzed at the end of the novel. I got to enjoy the layers of Scollay Square while simultaneously indulging in a love story wrapped up in the beauty (and complexity) that was 1950’s Boston.
The only issue I really had was the abrupt disappearance of Carlie’s father, who played a HUGE part in the (mafioso type) issues between the lovers at the beginning of the story. Did he get a quip at the end of the book explaining his whereabouts? Yes, but being such a huge player in the forefront I believe earned him a more prominent part in the end. Was this a deal breaker? No, just something that nagged at me a tad after I flipped that final page.
My overall opinion? While I don’t think that this book will appeal to everyone, I do think that romance fans and history junkies will find it fascinating. Well done Mr. Sweeney and I hope to see more work like this from you in the future. It’s a side of you I thoroughly enjoyed.
Happy Reading my fellow Kindle-ites and remember: memories are as equally tied to inanimate objects as they are to people, take care with what you deem trash.
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