'Overseas' Connects WWI And Modern-Day New York


Imagine a combination of "Downton Abbey" and "Margin Call."

Picture a novel that mixes the romance and horror of the World War I era in England with the ruthless machinations of Wall Street at the time of the 2008 collapse.

First-time novelist Beatriz Williams of Greenwich has taken just that mixture of seemingly conflicting story elements to create the genre-busting novel "Overseas" (G.P. Putnam's Sons, $25.95), which has already received lavish praise in advance of its official publication date of Thursday, May 10.

The book brings together two unlikely lovers -- the gentle and honorable World War I veteran (and poet) Julian Laurence and the ambitious young 21st century Wall Street banker Kate Wilson -- in a tale of time travel, love and mysterious danger that might remind some readers of Jack Finney's cult classic "Time and Again."

"Overseas" received a starred review in Publisher's Weekly in March that called the book "a delicious story about the ultimate romantic fantasy: love that not only triumphs over time and common sense, but, once Kate overcomes Julian's WWI-era ideas about honor, includes mind-blowing sex."

In a phone interview last week, Williams said that she was as surprised by the genre-bending, time-traveling story that took shape in her imagination.

"When I got the idea, I wasn't thinking about genres. I wanted to write a love story, but I never intended to write in a contemporary setting," she said of the book's inclusion of Wall Street drama.

Williams has always been fascinated by the years surrounding World War I in England when many of the best and brightest young men went from idealism to cynicism as a result of the horrors of trench warfare.

One day in a writing workshop, Williams suddenly had a mental picture of a classic British World War I officer walking in the streets of modern-day Manhattan.

"I kind of tried to dismiss it ... Oh, time travel," the writer recalled, laughing, of her displaced romantic hero.

"But then I thought it was a great way to tell the story of how far we've come culturally (since World War I), but also the common ground we still share," she added of the then-and-now comparisons that run through "Overseas."

Although life in 21st-century Manhattan would probably feel very strange to a visitor from 100 years ago, Williams quickly saw that "yes, we've changed a lot, but at heart people are essentially the same."

One of the strongest elements in the novel is the way that Kate remains an independent modern woman in spite of being swept up in a romance with a rich and handsome and courteous man from another era.

At first, Julian has a hard time understanding why Kate wants to remain a player on Wall Street after she is sabotaged by a co-worker and fired amidst charges of insider trading. The time-traveling Brit has become a billionaire hedge fund genius who doesn't see why Kate would keep fighting for her job after they become a couple.

"Honestly, how many six-foot-five-inch raven-haired dukes would want you to have your own career?," Williams asked rhetorically, with a chuckle, adding that she liked placing an intense romantic negotiation at the center of her novel.

"How can they make it work?," the writer asked herself as she crafted "Overseas" and readers will wonder the same thing as they race through an unusually suspenseful love story.

Those with an aversion to science-fiction needn't worry about any complicated H.G. Wells "Time Machine" elements bogging down Williams' story. The writer handles the fantasy elements so deftly that the time travel in the book seems every bit as natural as it was in Finney's "Time and Again."

"I wanted to make it very simple and straightforward and not waste a lot of time explaining how this happened," the novelist said of Julian's arrival in contemporary Manhattan and the romantic drama that ensues.

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