It Is Well: A Review
Title: It Is Well
Author: James D. Shipman
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
I came by this book as a long-term member of Amazon’s Kindle First program available to Prime members. The program provides one free e-book per month from a selection of four. You can find out more about the program, including how to sign up here. I chose this title because I am always weak for good historical fiction, especially when it’s character-driven. It Is Well did not disappoint in either regard.
The book follows the Beecher family of Snohomish, Washington during the years just before and throughout the Second World War. Jonathan, the steadfast and faithful patriarch, heads the Beecher household. A widower with devout loyalty to his late wife, Jonathan operates a hardware store in the small town. His eldest son, Matthew, is a civilian contractor in the South Pacific before and during the War. He is captured, along with the military base on Wake Island, by the Japanese. His younger brother, Luke, has none of his ambition or penchant for hard work. Luke is a playboy, known for being both popular and lazy. How others perceive him is his constant preoccupation. It is within this frame that he joins the Army after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The youngest Beecher, a seventeen-year-old girl named Mary is young and naïve, which draws her to break a promise and marry rashly.
Jonathan is a devoted father and does his best to keep his family safe. He attends church every Sunday and does what he can to help his community whenever possible. He lives a life of piety and loyalty — sacrificing his own happiness on more than one occasion as his gripped firmly to his principles for survival. Despite his piety, even Jonathan is not spared the suffering and loss synonymous with WWII. He is forced to worry when his son, Matthew, is stuck in the South Pacific when the war with Japan breaks out. He is further forced to worry when his second son, Luke, joins the Army against the express wishes of his father.
Alone and downtrodden, Jonathan meets a local widow named Sarah. There is immediate closeness between the two, but romance is perpetually elusive by Jonathan’s design. His wife, Helen, coerced him to make a death bed promise to remain loyal to her even after death. Each member of the Beecher family is forced to grapple with impossible moral questions and sacrifices they never thought they’d be able to stomach.
It Is Well represents strongly for many of the characteristics of compelling historical fiction. The world Mr. Shipman creates is immersive in a gentle and inviting way. The village of Snohomish is as much a character in the story as any member of the Beecher family. I’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest personally, but I know small towns, and I’d urge that Shipman captures something nuanced about small town life. The fact that the characters are relatively complex was also quite welcome. My father was a history teacher for over thirty-five years. There’s not much about WWII that I’ve never encountered before and I probably wouldn’t believe it if I met in in fiction anyway. It is character that makes historical fiction, and I came to truly care for the Beechers.
The book can come across as preachy at times. This is annoying, but ultimately within the bounds of Jonathan Beecher’s character. It’s the type of narrative annoyance one would experience if hearing it from the man himself. The book also falls back on lazy and gratuitous violence. Some of the narrative conclusions felt remarkably contrived, but I consumed them ravenously anyway.
This book is perfect for those interested in World War II, particularly the Pacific theatre — although the European is represented beautifully as well. The book is quite violent, and reader discretion is advised. Domestic violence plays a prominent role in the middle of the book, and the passages can be triggering. Those interested in the rich, inner lives of simple and rural people will find pleasant satisfaction in the Beecher family’s tale.
The book is written in a style that is quick and easy to read, although there are occasional passages and phrases that can be described as quite beautiful. I found myself moved to tears on more than one occasion.
Have you read It Is Well? What were your thoughts? Leave your opinions in the comments below!