Book Review: The Reason for Time by Mary Burns

TheReasonForTimeCoverOffical Synopsis from Goodreads: Whole minutes passed when I didn’t think of my man and the swimming lesson set up for the next day, if no one was murdered before then, or the cars stopped, or a bomb go off somewhere… On a hot, humid Monday afternoon in July 1919, Maeve Curragh watches as a blimp plunges from the sky and smashes into a downtown Chicago bank building. It is the first of ten extraordinary days in Chicago history that will forever change the course of her life. Racial tensions mount as soldiers return from the battlefields of Europe and the Great Migration brings new faces to the city, culminating in violent race riots. Each day the young Irish immigrant, a catalogue order clerk for the Chicago Magic Company, devours the news of a metropolis where cultural pressures are every bit as febrile as the weather. But her interest in the headlines wanes when she catches the eye of a charming streetcar conductor. Maeve’s singular voice captures the spirit of a young woman living through one of Chicago’s most turbulent periods. Seamlessly blending fact with fiction, Mary Burns weaves an evocative tale of how an ordinary life can become inextricably linked with history.

Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: July 1919, Chicago

***I received a copy of The Reason for Time from the publisher, Allium Press of Chicago***

Review: Historical fiction with an intriguing setting, but the main character is a bit flat. The Reason for Time by Mary Burns was an interesting read for me. Set during July 1919 in Chicago, this was a violent time in the city’s history, and I had never before heard of this race riot. I live out in California, about an hour north of San Francisco, and the Chicago race riot of 1919 was something I hadn’t ever heard about until I read this book. So this history was fascinating to me, and I spent a lot of time looking online reading up on different people, companies, and events that are mentioned in The Reason for Time. I love it when a book teaches me something new!

With the historical aspect in mind, the book did startle me at the beginning, as it starts out with an author’s note about language used in the book. This was disturbing, and it made me hesitant to read this book. I appreciate the author’s note at the beginning, and it was necessary, as there is offensive language in the book.

In terms of the plot and characters, the book is told from the point of view of Maeve Curragh, age twenty, as she works at The Chicago Magic Company, and lives her life. Maeve is more of an onlooker of the action. She never gets involved with the riots, or the turmoil of the city. She meets a conductor, Desmond Malloy, and falls in love, and most of this book was Maeve wandering around thinking about the city and Desmond. Maeve was a different character for a book in that she was completely ordinary. There is nothing really that sets Maeve apart from anyone you would meet in your day-to-day life. She’s perfectly nice, and goes about her business and tries to get her work done, and the problem with her being so ordinary is that it is boring. Maeve had no spark, no drive, no zest for life. So, I really had difficulty connecting to her, as she didn’t really have any personality. In one way, it was refreshing to read a main character that wasn’t too funny, or too smart, or too pretty, or too rich, or too outspoken. But in another way, it was also too bland, as she was just so ordinary. And ordinary isn’t bad, but it isn’t exciting, either.

When you’ve decided on a thing, there’s nothing but to be after doing it.

Told in first person, from Maeve’s point of view, you really are in Maeve’s head and hear her speak, and the rhythm of Maeve’s narration took a bit for me to get used to. Here’s an example:

Not much of a story so soon, but enough to report how the airship’d fallen burning and people after drifting through the sky in parachutes. “A gigantic flame shot skyward.” This time I knew more than the papers because I’d seen it all, yet didn’t it seem more real when you saw it printed? Right there in black and white, and not just me reading it, no. All the big shots mattered to the city’d read the same. Really everyone.

Once I got a few pages into the book, I was able to pick up the speech patterns easier, but every time I’d set the book down and then go back to it, I’d have to reacquaint myself to the speech and it would take me a bit to get into the flow of being in Maeve’s head.

The setting of 1919 Chicago was very well done. I honestly felt like I was right there wandering the streets of Chicago with Maeve, and feeling the heat of that summer sun, and smelling the smells of the city. The atmosphere was very well written, and there’s a scene towards the end of the book where Maeve walks an extremely long way in too-tight shoes that made me so thankful for tennis shoes!

Everyone was scared. Hot and scared and if not angry, sad—and hot. Everyone hot.

I do think that this book could’ve been edited down a bit more. Some sections dragged, and the ending felt a bit rushed compared to the beginning of the book. There was also more of a focus on romance than I expected going in to this read.

All in all, I’m glad that I read this book as it informed me about Chicago’s history, but while I’ll remember the setting of the book, I’m not so sure that I’ll remember Maeve.

Bottom Line: Informative historical fiction, but the main character is bland.

Links to The Reason for Time on   Amazon   |    Goodreads

Does this sound like an interesting read? Have you read any other books set in Chicago during this time period?


6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Reason for Time by Mary Burns

  1. Too bad the main character didn’t grab you! I have read a book about the Chicago Fire but I also hadn’t ever heard of the Chicago Race Riots. Maybe if this book is ever offered cheaply on BookBub I’ll get it and read it. Thanks for the boring warning however! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The historical aspect of the book was fascinating! 38 people died in the riots, and when you read the information about Chicago during the summer of 1919 (apparently called the Red Summer because it was such a violent time for the nation as a whole) I can’t believe it isn’t mentioned more. I hadn’t ever heard of it until this book. I’m on the lookout to read other books set in this time period.


  2. Based purely on your samples, I think the author has caught Irish speech patterns really well. Being Scottish, it feels very familiar to me but I can see why it would take a bit of getting used to for people new to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh that’s so great to hear that the author got the voice right! It’s hard to tell sometimes. Yeah, it was hard for me when I first started reading the book, and it would take me several pages to find the rhythm of the words.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Yeah, the history was more interesting than the characters were, so that was a bummer. I do want to look for other books set in this area & time period as the history was fascinating.


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