A nice read with some interesting history and a creative, if slightly muddled and at times shallow, story about sisterly love amid a chaotic time in the early 20th century.
The first lesson to learn from Little Souls, the new novel from Sandra Dallas, is that Denver started prohibition four years before it hit nationwide in 1920. This new-to-me detail adds another layer to the already tumultuous year of 1918 as sisters Lutie and Helen navigate life during both a pandemic and a World War.
The sisters, Helen a nurse and Lutie an artist with a bit of a bohemian streak, are building a life for themselves in the big city after leaving Iowa when their parents died. They’ve found a home, careers, and love. They’ve also found mayhem due to an unscrupulous tenant, fear from the influenza pandemic, and the pain of dealing with having loved ones across the ocean fighting in Europe. The sisters find allies in the upper class family of Lutie’s fiance, Peter, and deep love for Dorothy, the young girl whose mother died of the flu and whose father finds himself on the sister’s kitchen floor with an ice pick to the head. And as we all know but always seem to forget, just about everyone has a secret. And, of course, most of the secrets coincidentally tie into the events of the story.
Little Souls is well researched and well written; the descriptions of early 20th century Denver are rich and engaging, and the plot and themes are interesting and well crafted. Unfortunately though, it seems to lack some soul itself. The characters are developed well technically, but there is something missing in bringing them fully to life. Given the settings of the story, there is inevitable death, fear, heartbreak, and a dose of redemption. But there is just not enough there to make you really feel. We are told throughout about the sister’s bond, but never feel it. Lutie’s indecision over how she feels for Peter is the closest you get to really engaging with her emotions, but in the end you are still just told that she loves him without knowing it. The one exception is Helen and Gil, who have just enough of the right details to connect to their relationship. The summary describes it as a gripping tale, but it is more of a slow mellow churn with some slips and slides along the way.
The crown jewel of this audiobook is Carly Robins’ narration. Her voice has the perfect lilt to take you back to the time period, and she uses tone and pace changes very smartly to keep the story moving. The unfortunate detail here is that I listened via the NetGalley app, which I great appreciate but has some looming audio issues. This may have the potential to be a 5-star performance, but it’s challenging to get past everyone sounding a tad like a robot.
By Sandra Dallas
Narrated by: Carly Robins
Publication: April 26, 2022
Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan Audio for an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.