TINY LITTLE THING

Tiny Little Thing, a novel written by Beatriz Williams, advertises itself as “a perfect summer read.” I’m prejudiced against catalogs like “100 best books for summer reading” or “50 finest beach books published this year,” and I normally avoid such come-ons. The titles listed are generally too frothy for my tastes, and besides, I rarely lounge on a beach, icy drink, and tattered paperback in hand. But hey, it’s summer, so I picked up Tiny Little Thing on a whim. And I couldn’t put it down!

Not only is Tiny Little Thing well-written, with sharp characterizations and evocative scenes, but the storyline also calls for some thoughtful introspection. How does abundant familial wealth necessitate generational entitlement? Must a woman marry the man everyone in her set has chosen for her? Must she then stand by his side as a political ornament, even when her heart isn’t in the charade? I suppose these questions could be asked of a “trite” summer read, but Tiny Little Thing is anything but trite. Rather, it probes the question of privilege and responsibility in seriously provocative ways.

The novel moves between 1964 and 1966 and is told from the perspective of two different people. Christina “Tiny” Hardcastle narrates the 1966 events. Her very attractive husband is running for United States Congressman from Massachusetts. He and his very demanding family, hold high expectations for Tiny’s campaign role. Frustrated by the constraints, she wants to rebel. But she has her shackles, too. As Tiny Little Thing opens, Tiny receives a compromising photo of herself, plus a blackmail note. Certain revelations might well derail her husband’s promising aspirations.

Her husband’s cousin, Caspian “Cap” Harrison, flashes back to a series of events that occurred two years earlier, just before Tiny married Franklin Hardcastle. Cap, a decorated war hero by 1966, is a bit of a black sheep in the Hardcastle family because he chose military service instead of medicine or the law. In a savvy authorial move, Beatriz Williams describes Cap’s 1964 narrative in third person, before he shipped out for a second Viet Nam tour, not in the more familiar first person used by Tiny in her chapters. As a result, his past stands off by itself, holding him at arm’s length and almost in a vacuum, while the present unfolds in real time with real consequences.

Reading between the lines, I’m sure “Bookin’ with Sunny” readers can imagine the complicated tensions between 1964 and 1966 that this novel generates. Williams doesn’t disappoint. Again, she demonstrates an authorial deftness that I quite admire. The past is remembered only as Cap’s experienced it, and even that experience is held aloof. Meanwhile, pressures mount on Tiny’s present-day equilibrium. Can she afford to be tiny any longer? How might she grow larger-than-life?

The plot explodes, as one might well imagine, in the final chapters of Tiny Little Thing. But the repercussions and the aftermath are not quite what one might expect. They’re more complicated than a superficial “summer read” might suggest, with hints of untold stories yet to tell. Supporting my surmise, the “Acknowledgments” name an earlier Williams novel, The Secret Life of Violet Grant, which tells the story of one of Tiny’s younger sisters. There’s also a sneak preview of an upcoming Williams novel, Along the Infinite Sea, which will feature Tiny’s other younger sister. Since I so enjoyed Tiny Little Thing, there obviously will be more “summer reads” in my future than I previously had imagined! – Ann Ronald

Also available by Beatriz Williams: A Hundred Summers; The Summer Wives; The Golden Hour; The Secret Life of Violet Grant; The Glass Ocean; Along the Infinite Sea; A Certain Kind of Novel; The Wicked City; All the Ways We Said Goodbye; The Wicked Redhead; Overseas; The House on Cocoa Beach; Her Last Flight; An American Airman in Paris

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