Genres: Historical Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: February 19, 2019
I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. This in no way impacts my review. Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press and Netgalley for the chance to read an early copy.
Dear George, Dear Mary presented a very compelling story in its blurb—the story of George Washington’s relationship with his first love, Mary Philipse, sourced almost entirely from letters and diary entries the two had written. As a lover of all things historical fiction, and especially historical fiction that sticks close to the facts of real events, I was excited for this one. However, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.
I often complain when historical fiction books aren’t historically accurate or have too much made up stuff in them; this book suffered from the opposite problem. This book seemed very confused about whether it wanted to be fiction or non-fiction, which took away a lot of the enjoyment for me. When I go into a fiction book, I want story and feelings and relatable or at least sympathetic characters. When I go into a non-fiction book, I expect to learn and absorb a lot of information. With this book, which couldn’t make up its mind, you lost some of the feeling/emotion of good fiction but also lost the “facts” of the non-fiction among the story.
Those were my main two issues with this book. I didn’t feel very connected to Mary OR George, despite the fact that this was a love story and should have had some romance/swooning involved, and I also got REALLY bored and zoned out everything there was a long passage quoted from a historical document. A snippet of a letter from Mary to George or vice versa would have been a nice touch every once in a while in this book, but I didn’t need long passages quoted from all of George’s letters to other military officials, especially when they had nothing to do with the main plot of the story. They bogged down the story and made it harder to read, which is quite a shame. I had never heard of Mary Philipse before, but it sounds like she had a really interesting life and her relationship with George actually seemed more profound than the one she had with her husband or that George had with Martha. I wish I had enjoyed learning about her more.
Overall, I just wish Calvi would have been more decisive in writing either a historical FICTION book that focused on the romance and relationship of George and Mary or just said she was doing a non-fiction book on this and focused on the academic/historical source side of the book. I feel if she’d focused on the feelings of Mary and George’s relationship more, I would have felt more connection to the characters and enjoyed this book much more immensely, just as I would have enjoyed it more if she made it entirely non-fiction and I went into this with the intent to read a non-fiction book and learn about the pair in an academic sense.
I give this book a 2.5/5 stars. It gets props for the interesting subject matter and for the few chapters where we actually saw Mary and George interacting, because I greatly enjoyed those, but the rest of the book falls flat for a lack of character development and dry passages that quote directly from historical sources. I wanted more story or more non-fiction, but this mix of both didn’t work for me, unfortunately.
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Have you read any good historical fiction books lately? Are you a fan of revolution-era historical fiction?