The Diary, a life well read


The Diary

Combining the, at times verbose, descriptive powers of a Dickens with the hard scrabble Great Depression spirit in Steinbeck, The Diary pulls you in and keeps you reading through all 600-plus pages.

Based largely on the real diary kept by her father, Alvin Potts, Sunnyside author Frances Potts weaves a tale of real and fictional characters centered around her father's life and love, laughter and tears, at a tuberculosis sanatorium in Walla Walla.

The place is real, the diary is real, her father's TB is real, even the 1930s depression setting is real, as are the majority of Potts family names in The Diary.

Potts adeptly takes cryptic diary entries made by her father, and turns them into full blown stories introducing fictional characters at the "san" to keep the story flowing.

Like her father, Potts reports each daily diary entry at the sanatorium.

In the spirit of a diary entry, each chapter in The Diary, is a short couple of pages and helps the reader get the flow of day-to-day life at the san.

Metaphors abound in The Diary, some more obvious than others.

Not only is it a book that's hard to put down as Potts draws you into the lives of the characters, but her descriptive powers make each one seem real, people that you grow to care about.

Then there's Potts' ear for dialogue, which adds genuine depth to the characters who call The Diary home.

It's also nice to know the author and get a glimpse of her in The Diary as a baby and toddler doted on by family.

The relationship she describes between her mother and father - as reflected in Alvin's real-life diary - is a sweet love story.

It's a romance that survives and thrives despite the era's medical and institutional restraints.

I have to admit that familiarity with the author caused me to squirm a few times through the book when Potts describes her own father's desires and other facets of manhood.

It's to her credit that she doesn't shy away from those things and readers who don't know her probably wouldn't give them a second thought.

It is a big book with a great sense of place and storytelling. To some used to shorter books, the tome's length may take some getting used to.

Even this reviewer found himself so entrenched in the story that he wanted the pace to pick up a bit.

Listening to a boxing match on the radio, for example, gets pages of treatment. It's well rendered, mind you, but again detours the reader a bit.

The boxing match, by the way, is just one example of the great amount of research that obviously went into The Diary. To her credit, Potts did her homework and puts the reader squarely into the 1930s of depression and looming war.

The Walla Walla newspapers are referred to often in The Diary, as tidbits are read daily by Alvin and other patients in his room.

Readings from the Walla Walla papers help to convey the day-to-day theme of a diary and gives some insights into central Washington happenings, such as earthquakes, as well as the specter of war looming in Europe.

Maybe it's because I work at a newspaper, but I found it surprising there was no mention of the Walla Walla papers in the author's acknowledgements.

Also, since so many of the characters are real, it would have been fun for an addendum at the back of the book to tell what happened to them in later years.

Then again, one hopes that Potts is stockpiling those folks away to tell their stories another day.

The Diary will reward the patient reader with compelling characters living out a riveting story of life and death in 1930s Walla Walla.

The Diary is available for purchase at Melange in Sunnyside, at or at

Starting next month it will also be available online at


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