I just finished reading a recently released historical fiction novel written by a commercially successful author. Its plot, set in World War II and the years immediately afterwards, promised to be interesting. From the start though, there were inaccuracies that caught my eye. Growing up in New York City, I know that it doesn't take 30 minutes to circle the north end of Grand Central Terminal from Madison Avenue to Lexington, it takes less than half that. I also know that once the erstwhile 1940s pedestrian arrived at Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street as the protagonist hopes to, there would be no express bus that would then take her to Manhattan's Lower East Side. And what of the mention of voyaging on the Queen Elizabeth II during those years? It would be a long wait at the pier for that journey as the QE2 as she was known wasn't christened until 1969 (shame on the editor, this was an easy one! Maybe it's just me, but these distracting inaccuracies turned an otherwise "pleasant enough" reading experience into a hunt for still more erroneous details.
So, with this said, over the past couple of days I turned over a portion of my just completed manuscript to my wife to read.This in itself is fraught with peril but I did so feeling confident in my prose and committed to listening--truly listening--to her feedback. My belief in my writing seemed to be confirmed as she no criticisms but I was surprised when she had questions about the accuracy of the details that set my scene.Was the Gospel of John really read at Easter in 1948? A practicing Catholic, she'd never heard reference to a sanctuary in a Catholic church. Okay, I'd committed to listening and not defending so I went back through my notes and indeed, I could cite the sources for both these references. Pleased as I was to demonstrate my accuracy, the discussion's made me question whether too many details enlisted in hopes of setting place or time may actually be a distraction. Or perhaps I'm just a nit-picky reader.