Once every few years, a book comes along that stays with me. Not for days or months, but for years. Five years after its release, A FALL OF MARIGOLDS by Susan Meissner is one of those books for me. It is the book that I read and reread in awe of the artistry that takes two stories, sets them on parallel paths, then intertwines them with such ease and mastery. It’s a story that reminds me how, on any given day, we may never know how thin the veil is between a life-altering change of course and the ordinary.
A FALL OF MARIGOLDS tells the story of two women, a hundred years apart; two spur-of-the-moment decisions that were inspired by joy but instead caused their lives to intersect with tragedy and resulted in the loss of the men they loved; and one mysterious marigold scarf that connects them and changes their lives.
In September 1911, nurse Clara Wood has banished herself to Ellis Island, unable to face returning to Manhattan after witnessing the death of the man she loved in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Instead she passes her days caring for aspiring immigrants while struggling to find a way through her own grief.
In September 2011, Taryn Michaels—widowed by the attacks on 9/11—has convinced herself that she has recovered from her husband’s death. Her life centers around her job in a charming specialty fabric store and being a solo mother to her nine-year-old daughter. But she has never told her daughter the truth about what happened that terrible day, and she’s never been able to move on from the “what-ifs” and the decisions that morning that meant Kent died and she survived.
As humans, we often flatter ourselves about how much control we have over our lives. It’s a belief that is further ingrained by a commercial culture built around giving us exactly what we want, when we want it. Susan Meissner’s lyrical split-time novel exposes the fallacy of that belief. How the smallest things—a phone call, an unexpected errand, a conversation run long—things that on the surface look inconsequential, can be the things that change the course of our entire life. Likewise, how those same small things—a traffic light changing, one last run into the house for a forgotten item, a late train—may save us from something we will never know we missed.
At its core, A FALL OF MARIGOLDS is a celebration of the resiliency of the human spirit—of two women who, having been dealt the harshest blows that life can deliver, find hope, joy, and love again on the other side.
A scarf decorated with marigolds is the connecting thread between two women experiencing a similar anguish 100 years apart. In New York City’s 1911 and 2011, the two women both fell in love and then lost their husbands in terrible disasters. A well-told examination of grief and resilience, A FALL OF MARIGOLDS manages to be touching and sweet, yet gritty and real when examining how to find hope in despair.