Set in the Pennsylvania town of Donora, After the Fog by Kathleen Shoop tells a story of a community nurse, Rose Pavlesic, whose life and family begin to fall apart as a dangerous fog takes over the town in 1948. While the characters and situations they find themselves in are fictional, the deadly fog from the steel and zinc mills of Donora is a very real historical event and provides a fascinating backdrop for this melodramatic story.
Rose is a no-nonsense, tough, hard-working community nurse. She is dedicated to her job and invested in the lives of the families she calls on, and she takes particular pride in her neat appearance and professional demeanor. I can see how she could come off as a cold, unlikable character, but as we learn about her background and the reasons behind her decision to become a nurse, I thought her personality was right on given the time and her station in life.
The majority of the book takes place over five days in October during the build up of the fog as we follow Rose around the town, making calls on sick families and preparing to ask the wife of a wealthy mill owner to fund her job for another year. Meanwhile, her husband is keeping secrets about his job, her brother-in-law is in trouble over gambling debts, her lazy sister-in-law refuses to do any housework, her daughter announces she doesn’t want to go to college, and her football star son declares he’d rather go to Julliard than Notre Dame the week a scout is scheduled to visit. All of these people (and more!) are living under the same roof, so needless to say the tension and drama is high.
I was really intrigued and invested in the story of Rose and the people of the mill town, but about halfway through the book I thought it lost some of its momentum. There was simply so much going on, it was a bit overwhelming. Poor Rose and her family had drama after drama, and secrets Rose thought she had long since buried and put behind her came back to haunt her. On top of all this, the fog from the mills is getting worse and people are getting sick, demanding more of Rose. Through it all, the danger of keeping secrets from those you love most and the theme of forgiveness is brought to a head by the end of the novel.
I would have enjoyed this book more if it had focused a bit more on the killer fog and perhaps one or two of the dramatic family situations Rose is struggling to work through. As it is, it reads a bit like one of the classic melodramatic films of the 40’s and 50’s, and there is nothing wrong with that. If you’re in the mood for a good historical fiction melodrama set in post-war America, After the Fog is an enjoyable and engaging read.
3 out of 5 Stars
After the Fog by Kathleen Shoop
Paperback: 416 pages
Special thanks to SparkPoint Studios for my review copy!