Review: Cullen McNamara is a farmer. Or that is what he tells himself – his father doesn’t believe nor want that anymore for his son. Taking out a loan, he arranges for his son to attend the world’s fair in Chicago. Coming as a shock, Cullen balks at the idea of leaving behind what his ancestors have done for generations – he knows where he belongs and it certainly isn’t on some Chicago street. Then he meets Della. On the verge of losing his hearing, Cullen is desperate. He doesn’t know how he’ll function once that happens so he takes a suggestion to take lip-reading lessons. Della is a teacher for the deaf who reluctantly agrees to give the man who rescued her lessons in exchange for him being Della’s escort around the fair exhibitions. Before either of them realize what all the time together may mean, Cullen finds his thoughts constantly shifting to his pretty teacher and Della begins to anticipate the nights she spends with Cullen.
the Pros: I’ve underestimated Deeanne Gist. There I’ve gone and said it. Way back when, I read her debut novel and my younger self liked it, however ever since then, the pull or allure of that novel was never enough to visit one of her subsequent works of fiction. How delighted I was to be a part of a tour promoting her latest. Gosh, golly, this book was interesting. The story is actually a unique one forcing the reader to feel more “at home” in the historical trivia of the fair than being spellbound by the characters. Then there are the quirks of both protagonists’ that make them unique and virtually erases – in those moments – the overall feel that everything is “all about” the fair. Marking this was approximately halfway through the book the thought that flitted through my mind was how the prose used the characters as “background” rather than the setting, the latter being usually what most books color in to enhance everything else. There was a turning point in which I felt as if finally the characters were slowly coming into their own – as if, finally, they were fully blooming.
Certainly what is the best asset of the story is how Deanne teases her reader’s without revealing everything before it should be. We are aware that the protagonists must be more than a name and narrative but are pulled along following subtle hints rather than told; she ignites and enchants our senses with a rad setting and in the last pages, a tender, beautiful example of all-consuming love. Common sense says there is a reason behind Cullen’s brilliant mind and specifically, inventing a sprinkler system, yet there is little chatter or reasons why for multiple chapters. Shifting into the deft perspective the author has of these characters, it was interesting how casual the interactions were between Della and Cullen. Readers don’t even meet Della until a handful of chapters in and even then, Cullen overpowers what little there is of background information and their banter – most of which is absorbed with the physical desirability instead of a blooming friendship, makes a unique statement. Tying into an interesting palette of a story is the unusual quirks of Della and Cullen not to mention names that are beautiful and well-suited. Della has an usual opinion of men drilled into her by her father and is afraid of close spaces, and Cullen suffers allergies and is losing his hearing. Because of these peculiarities not in spite of, these two are endearing and special.
Although she took some liberties – the author’s note in the back of the book – in order to better illustrate her story, this book is richly drawn in history and takes none of that for granted. Gist pays homage to an important event, weaving into the “fabric” of the story some unexpected (and sad!) dramatics as well as a leading couple easy to root for. Helping to place more of a visual ideal, there are photos of the fair at the beginning of nearly every chapter. It’s a bright spot in the design of the novel that lends authenticity to the book as is the sassy cover art with its gorgeous, soothing hues.
Cons: Fans of character-driven novels will find weaknesses (albeit of an inconsequential fashion). The fair takes precedence over everything. If there would be one glaring mistake, it’d be what comes between Della and Cullen. This isn’t really a criticism of the book considering most stories have this same “type” of motivator to create a last-minute will-they-or-won’t-they scenario.
Early on in the book, words miss letters in sentence conversations which is for the benefit of Cullen’s hearing loss. It was more a distraction than anything however, for the majority of the time it isn’t a factor as it is paced better. Far as authenticity goes, it was clever.
Conclusion: Between a literal picture and the deft talent of Deeanne Gist, ‘Fair’ is a must-read for any historical fiction lover. Perhaps the romance doesn’t blossom the same as some of its counter-parts, no matter, the writing and setting far outweigh any minor (really minor!) flaws this reader may have found. What’s Next: An 1893 Chicago World’s Fair guard specifically chosen for his height, physique, character and ability to serve and protect. When he is overcome with debilitating abdominal pain, he stumbles to an infirmary only to discover the doctor is female. Female. But even worse, she has the nerve to diagnose him, the toughest man west of anyplace east, with constipation—an unspeakable ailment in mixed company. Coming in 2014
Synopsis: Gambling everything—including the family farm—Cullen McNamara travels to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with his most recent invention. But the noise in the fair’s Machinery Hall makes it impossible to communicate with potential buyers. In an act of desperation, he hires Della Wentworth, a teacher of the deaf, to tutor him in the art of lip-reading. The young teacher is reluctant to participate, and Cullen has trouble keeping his mind on his lessons while intently watching her lips. Like the newly invented Ferris wheel, he is caught in a whirl between his girl back home, his dreams as an inventor, and his unexpected attraction to his new tutor. Can he keep his feet on the ground, or will he be carried away?
With thanks to Litfuse and the publisher for providing a complimentary copy of this book for reviewing purposes