Publication Date: January 14, 2014
In A Woman’s Role: A 1950s Romance by Carol Moessinger, Celina Pasniewska is a 23-year-old spinster living in 1950s Pennsylvania. Celina lost her boyfriend in the Korean conflict and having not lived to the expectation of her demanding father, is looking to break away from her oppressed life in a mining town to live a dream of journalism. With pressure from her parents, Celina must make the decision of having a family or her freedom. The hope of having both is just a bit too crazy.
The author, Carol Moessinger, gave me a copy of this book in exchange for my review.
A Woman’s Role: A 1950s Romance is a look into a Pennsylvania mining town in the 1950s. Billed as a romance, it’s more a history of “Bohunk” immigration from Eastern Europe to Pennsylvania. Celina is a woman living with the expectations of her family. Her father issues demands with grunts and her mother wants her to marry local to stay within the scope of the family to carry on its traditions, no matter how oppressed Celina feels. To marry and fill coffee cups at the grunt and raise male children to work in the mines like her father and female children to keep house like her mothers is the perceived destiny and the only true option. To do anything else is outside of the realm of possibilities. In the meantime, Celina is expected to tolerate the lecherous advances of her employer. When Celina meets the male protagonist, Stephen Meszaros, she is at a true crossroads.
Sounds like a good novel, right? Not so much. A Woman’s Role: A 1950s Romance was very well written but not engaging. As fiction, it’s somewhat unremarkable. I can’t say if it’s the apathy of Celina’s family to her interests and her somewhat passive approach to them. Celina is bland. Tomas is bland. Stephen is bland. They all fall flat in their own way. There’s a breakfast scene early in the book where the family meets in the kitchen and shares pierogis before leaving for Mass. The scene is rife with detailed information about what they’re eating and the morning ritual, but for the reader, while it may be a rich retelling of a moment in history, the descriptions weigh heavy against the backdrop of the plot.
The retelling of the history is rich. Moessinger has a clear love for and knowledge of the region she writes. As oppressive as the family life may seem, there’s nostalgia for what was clearly a simpler time. If you were of a certain class, you did a certain thing and there were no choices. Celina tells us on page 136 that “Happiness is not a word that goes with everyday life.” The community has beautifully detailed activities like a wedding. The bride and groom are lauded as being sensible and doing their duty. Celina buys a cold beverage at the Dairy Bar and throws out a Hershey Bar that is melting. There are hints all over of the area and its place in this time period, and as interested as I am in history, I could not have connected less with this novel and its characters.
Billed a romance on Amazon, I saw this novel more as history. There is a romantic element with protagonists making a connection. Celina spends a lot of time thinking and talking about Stephen. Despite that element, I would call it more a 1950s period piece.
If you want to know the daily life of Eastern European immigrants in the coal mining towns of Pennsylvania, A Woman’s Role: A 1950s Romance is very likely the novel for you. In this reader’s opinion, the author would make a fabulous historian but in this work has not shown a strength in fiction.
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