In Lynn Austin’s tantalizing domestic drama, If I Were You, desperation and forgiveness are part of a classic upstairs/downstairs plot.
In 1930s England, Eve was Audrey’s scullery maid and coveted her privilege. Audrey admired Eve for her courage; her own rich parents seemed cold by comparison. By 1950, Eve is an ocean away in a new bungalow, posing as widowed Audrey to benefit from Audrey’s generous American in-laws. When the real Audrey turns up, the former friends confront their rift.
From this brazen opening, a rearward-gazing plot traces the origins of Eve’s deception. A mild theme of God’s shepherding and Eve’s wavering faith unfolds through her steady pull away from her country roots. Characterizations are broad: Eve longs for a fairy-tale life but acts strong; Audrey is trusting, but fights to renounce her family’s blue-blood expectations. Still, powerful events prevent them from falling into easy villain and victim roles. The ease that each imagines the other possesses, and the insecurities they suffer, drive home the idea that appearances aren’t everything.
The book’s ravaged backdrop includes blitzes in Coventry and London that blur the social divide. Even when envy bubbles forth, necessity brings the women together. Their work as ambulance drivers is an equalizing force, though Audrey’s manor upbringing intrudes to remind Eve that her future is far from secure.
Both women fall for American soldiers. Both become pregnant and give birth. Rapid twists and further losses lead them back to their reckoning at the bungalow. Late contrition is couched in terms of lessons learned—too tidy, though the women’s encounter is still a healing scene after years of devastation.
Its message familiar and its world nostalgic and fragile, If I Were You looks for answers in changing identities and finds that it’s priceless to remain true to oneself.
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