My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I became a fan of Jillian Cantor’s work with her brilliant “Margot,” so I leaped at the chance to read and review “The Hours Count.” The title comes from a letter written by Pablo Picasso about Ethel and Julius Rosenberg’s then-pending executions.
The plot involves Mildred Stein, who lives in the same apartment building as the Rosenberg’s. Their sons are the same age, and she and Ethel strike up a friendship at the local playground as a result. Mildred’s husband, Ed, is an unpleasant and domineering Russian immigrant and she needs some relief from dealing with him — as well as with a son (David) whom we readily recognize as being on the autistic spectrum.
Millie is a likable, well-rounded character who seems to be trapped in her circumstances. However, she begins to grow through her friendship with Ethel and starts reaching out to the people around her for help — including psychologist Jake Gold, who is helping young David learn how to communicate.
Then, Ethel starts behaving strangely. She isn’t as friendly, and starts warning Millie that the people around her can’t be trusted … and Millie even starts to distrust Ethel … right up until Julius and Ethel are arrested as spies.
The book goes back and forth between June 19, 1953, (when the Rosenbergs were executed) and the years prior, so we see that Millie is desperately trying to see her friends one last time … and the events that led up to the execution (from Millie’s point of view) in a contrapuntal fashion. The book is well-written, and the main characters are rounded and well-developed. Those interested in the history of the Cold War and the so-called “Red Scare” will find a great deal of information here, because Cantor has researched the period carefully (her bibliography appears at the end). She shows us what life was like during the time period, and gives us an excellent story in the process.