Review: “Wind Up Hearts” by Stan Swanson

5 of 5 stars.

Included in Chronology published by Curiosity Quills Press, this story is accurately described as a “romance novella with a hint of steampunk.” This is my first foray into anything steampunk, but I’m not sure that it has much bearing on my assessment of the piece. To be sure, I loved this story. I laughed, cried, held my breath at times only to shakily let it out again. Full disclosure, romance is not normally my genre either. But this was a depiction of a lifelong romance. Careful small glimpses of the characters bounce across the decades to recount a relationship that spans a century of change. Henry, a wealthy, young business man, and Emily, a young widowed seamstress with a daughter, lead with their personalities on full display from the moment they meet on a park bench beside a lake in 1875:

“Look at it,” she said with a grand gesture at the vehicle chugging down the street. “It’s one of those newfangled, steam-driven automobiles. Isn’t it marvelous?”
Henry shrugged. “I suppose, but give me a good old horse and buggy any day of the week. All that noise and commotion. How can one possibly ponder the meaning of life amid that infernal racket?”
“There goes your language again, Mr. Thackery. Are you trying to upset me?” She grinned–mischievously, he thought–though he wasn’t sure.
“Hell no, ma’am,” he said softly with emphasis on the word hell.

The two characters are bound by the commonality of both being recipients of clock-like, wind-up hearts. But the metaphor of the mechanical hearts so tightly wound and protected is but one among many in this story. The seasons and weather, and even the planting and growth of a sycamore shading the park bench chronicle the moods and phases of the characters’ lives.

Over the course of twelve decades, the pair meet weekly for lunch, checking in, alternating who brings the lunch, and together winding their hearts’ mechanisms as per the maintenance schedule. Despite a growing love, and many proposals on Henry’s part, their relationship remains platonic. And weekly. The story gently rocks between the present and past, checking in at 25-year intervals. The cars, hats and clothing update accordingly. But in many ways, their relationship resists the fads of time. At one point, fifty years into the relationship, Henry tries to give Emily a car.

“Never mind. I cannot accept the gift.”
“You won’t even take a closer look at it?” he asked.
“I dare not,” she replied. “I would be too afraid of falling in love with it. Then what would I do except mourn the loss when someone else drives it away.”

The sapling sycamore grows tall, Emily’s hair turns silver and Henry leans on a cane, as they experience the whirl of life around them. And death.

There is a certain Pixar movie with an opening montage that catches in my throat every time I see it. To very quickly witness a lifetime of hope and love, and of change and constancy can be a very powerful thing. This is such a story. And despite it all, the heart of this story is anything but mechanical.
[Check out my other reviews here.]


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