The Spanish Boy by C. S. Reardon
Edie Clarey is the main character of The Spanish Boy, yet for most of the novel she is not present. Not quite halfway through the novel she disappears and we wonder and speculate as to the reason until the end, when all but one of the characters closest to her are dead. Now we have a mystery, the makings of a romance and a historical novel all in one.
We begin in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1936, with the appearance in the sky of the astonishing airship, the Hindenberg, on its way to New Jersey. Three young friends have risen early, scrambled out of their beds, and run to a nearby park to witness the spectacle. Edie is the oldest at 18, her brother Mel and their friend Lawrie are 16. Lawrie is in love with Edie, has loved her all his life, and only waits to be 18 himself, when the difference in their ages won’t matter so much.
Edie is deeply loved and spoiled by her parents, as well as her two brothers—the older Gus, who is half-heartedly studying for the priesthood, and Mel, more like a twin brother, his bond with Edie is so close. (Another character is Theresa, the family’s expert housekeeper and terrible cook. Theresa’s history is a tragic one, her family having been lost and she being terribly disfigured, in the 1917 explosion that levelled much of the city and killed about 2000. Halifax is given affectionate treatment here.)
All this love seems inevitable, since Edie has all the physical characteristics of a typical romance novel heroine—not pretty but brimming with inner beauty, tall, lively, slim and possessing that most important appurtenance, long, curly, chestnut hair. The author’s description could have been copied from any number of Harlequin numbers and, for that reason, sadly disappointed me. But, maybe Reardon is being ironic? Hmmm.
Edie is given a job in her father’s paint and glass shop to keep her out of trouble. She is a sort of receptionist and file clerk and terribly bored. All the men there adore her and she respects them, all but the annoying accountant. Her interest is only piqued by the dark-eyed, curly-black-haired newcomer. He calls himself Michael Green to hide his real name, Micah Gessen, but is nick-named “the Spanish boy” by his fellow workers because of his dark appearance, unaware of his plans.
Micah is a “red,” a communist from Toronto, trying to earn enough money to get on a ship to Spain to fight with the Republican rebels against the fascistic Nationalists. He takes advantage of Edie’s interest in him to talk to her about Marxism and Spain, gaining her sympathy so she will act as a helper and messenger. She hopes to impress him with her new-found selflessness and interest in communism. She is determined to go to Spain with him but he scorns her. She offers her bicycle as enticement—he’ll take the bike but not her. This where the reader will want her to stow away, join the Republicans and be a hero. Well, maybe she does—I’m not telling.
The Spanish Boy is a complex but satisfying and well told tale that manages to subvert a trite romance and make something much better—a novel of a happy family in hard times that suffers a strange, painful loss that leaves them to live on in a mystery.