Book Bag: ‘Make a Wish But Not For Money’ by Suzanne Strempek Shea; ‘The Dyeing Room’ by Robert T. McMaster

Last modified: Thursday, January 29, 2015


By Suzanne Strempek Shea

PFP Publishing

For her first novel in several years, Valley writer Suzanne Strempek Shea has been inspired in part by the former “Dead Mall” of Hadley, the Mountain Farms Mall on Route 9 that was largely vacant for many years before being reconfigured with freestanding stores like Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble and Old Navy.

In “Make a Wish But Not For Money,” middle-aged Rosie Pilch has become another victim of the recession of 2008-09, laid off from her longtime job as a teller at a western Massachusetts bank. So depressed she has trouble leaving her home, Rosie is jolted out the door when a friend suddenly elopes and leaves her a palm-reading business in the nearby Orchard Mall, a once-popular place now down on its heels and slated for the wrecking ball in a few months.

Rosie may know all the ins and outs of processing deposits, but she’s in the dark when it comes to reading palms — until she discovers she really can see all kinds of details in people’s hands, spinning along like a highlight reel. She shares that information with a growing body of customers, drawn to her dusty storefront by word of mouth.

“On top of the lines she sees the information, rooted in past and present and future, of those who now, three months into her time at Orchard Mall, are waiting in pairs of twos and threes at the beginning of the gray industrial carpet sixteen steps away.”

Rosie’s surprising abilities throw a new wrinkle into the future of the few remaining mall tenants as they prepare to leave: Maybe there’ll be a new start for them and the mall itself. And Rosie, after reading the palm of the building’s maintenance man, has reason to reassess her commitment to her self-absorbed fiancé, Scot.

Shea has fun gently tweaking the legacy of the old Mountain Farms Mall (or old, underleased malls everywhere). Some of the businesses sharing underused footage with Rosie are the “Affordable Attorney” and “The Village Barber”: the Orchard Mall has been designed to simulate a traditional New England town, where three large walkways merge to form a “Town Common” consisting of “a gazebo, dry cement pond, flagless pole and much square yardage of once-emerald AstroTurf.”

In notes accompanying her novel, Shea says the book and its title were inspired by a visit she made years ago to a palm reader in New York City; the woman used that exact phrase with her. “I don’t know what else she told me,” Shea writes. “She could have given me that night’s winning lottery number, but all that stuck with me was her question.”


By Robert T. McMaster

Unquomonk Press

A few years ago, Williamsburg author Robert McMaster published “Trolley Days,” a historical novel set in Holyoke in the early days of the 20th century. McMaster, a former biology professor at Holyoke Community College, based the book partly on stories he had heard about his father’s boyhood in Southbridge.

In “Trolley Days,” McMaster examined the past through the lives of two friends from different sides of the tracks: Jack Bernard, whose French-Canadian father works in a Holyoke mill, and Tom Wellington, the son of the mill’s owner. In “The Dyeing Room,” a sequel to the first book, McMaster picks up their stories again, setting them within a volatile period in the spring of 1917.

Jack, now 17, is working a variety of jobs, including in a local mill, to save money to attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He thinks he can earn more money, though, by taking a job dyeing wool — but the chemicals and the heat in the dyeroom soon make him horribly ill.

Tom, meanwhile, has returned home from his studies at Harvard University after attending a clinic to deal with his problems with alcohol. Tom thinks he’s cured, but he soon discovers he still has a way to go.

Both young men then face other challenges. A mutual friend of theirs disappears, and as Jack and Tom search for her, they discover a dark secret about Holyoke’s political underbelly. The whole city is already on edge, now that America has entered World War I. Patriotic fervor has made many people suspicious of the immigrant families in Holyoke, and when the mill workers — many of them from immigrant families — strike for better wages and working conditions, police and street thugs attack them.

McMaster said “The Dyeing Room” was inspired in part by a visit he made years ago to the dyehouse of an old Connecticut mill and again by stories he learned from his father and other older relatives. He’s also done extensive research on Holyoke history, including examining old stories from the Holyoke Daily Transcript on microfilm. He’s planning to release “Noah’s Raven,” a third book in the series, next year.

McMaster will read from and sign copes of his new novel on Jan. 28 at 6 p.m. at the Holyoke Public Library, 250 Chestnut Street, Holyoke.


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