cover image The Hours Count

The Hours Count

Jillian Cantor. Riverhead, $26.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-59463-318-8

Cantor’s (Margot) suspenseful historical novel concerns Millie Stein, a lonely mother in late 1940s New York who befriends her kind neighbor Ethel Rosenberg, who later will be executed with her husband, Julius, after an FBI witch hunt at the height of anti-Communist paranoia. The women bond upon discovering that they both face challenging parental situations: Ethel’s son, John, is difficult and off-putting, while Millie is often vilified because her two-year-old David has yet to speak. At a gathering with the Rosenbergs’ friends, who have Communist sympathies, Millie encounters psychologist Jake Gold, who offers to treat Millie and her son in exchange for being able to write about them in a paper. Jake is kind and patient with David, and shows interest in Millie as a person. Millie finds herself falling for Jake as her Russian husband, Ed, tries to send David away and demands that she conceive another baby. Cantor deals deftly with themes of friendship and motherhood, but doesn’t fare as well when it comes to romance. The book is at its best throwing surprises at Millie, beginning when sweet-talking Jake suddenly vanishes and Millie suspects that Ed might be hanging with a nefarious crowd. Cantor keeps the reader guessing about various characters’ motivations right up until the climax. While the love story is the weakest element in this narrative, the novel is notable for its affecting depiction of motherly love and the skillful way it captures the suffocating air of the McCarthy era. (Oct.)