Friday, 17 October 2014

Letter From Home by Carolyn Hart

published 2003, set in the 1940s








[A neighbour is describing exciting events in her quiet suburban street]

“…That’s when I ran to the phone and called the police. Before Sergeant Petty came – and I don’t think it’s right to have a woman in pants like that, I don’t care if that’s what war workers wear –“ She lifted her hand, pressed it to her lips, then cried, “Oh, I’m sorry, Gretchen, I know your mother works at the plant in Tulsa and it’s real important to have people working to make the airplanes and I know she has to dress that way, but Sergeant Petty looks almost like a man and she walks like one too.


[Later, Gretchen's mother is visiting from the Douglas Aircraft plant in Tulsa]

Gretchen ran to the front door. The dark blue Buick was dusty… the passenger door swung out. Wiry blond curls poked from beneath a saucer of a hat with a bright pink feather.

“Mother! Mother!” Gretchen jumped down the steps, ran. Her mother ran, too, despite her high heels and short skirt.



observations: When I featured a different Carolyn Hart book on the blog (Brave Hearts, see entry here) my blogging friend TracyK mentioned that she had this book, and had heard good things about it. As Brave Hearts had come via Col and his Criminal Library, there was a certain symmetry in obtaining the second one. (Making online friends can lead to an augmented TBR pile…)

Anyway I started reading it, thinking it was an interesting but routine story about a teenage girl growing up in small-town America during the Second World War – but slowly it pulled me in, and manipulated my emotions. Gretchen’s mother is away at an aircraft plant, as above, she lives with her grandmother, helps out at the family café, and really wants to be a journalist. Her friend Barb lives nearby, and so when there is trouble over there, Gretchen wants to help her friend, and also wants to get the story. This is a crime/murder story, but more than that.

The atmosphere of a small town in Oklahoma is very well done, and so is the feel for wartime, and of course the clothes they all wear. Hart was born in 1936 so must have been younger than Gretchen, but you would guess that the background is her own and truly authentic. One thing I liked about the book was that she clearly had points to make – about tolerance, about gossip, about the effects of war, and about prejudice – and she most certainly makes them in the book: you wouldn’t have any doubt about where she stands on these issues. But still they are a genuine part of the story, and the plot is very well done and holds your interest. I found parts of the book highly affecting, and even had to brush away the odd tear. One thing Gretchen tries to do is to show the truth about someone who has died, and whose Bohemian and unconventional ways have been blamed for her death – ‘bringing it on herself.’ She collects memories from friends, and from those whose lives were touched by the dead woman, to try to put things right. The whole section is beautifully done, and is a legitimate part of the plot.

This is an odd little book, and one I might easily have missed – but it’s a very good one, so thanks to both Col and Tracy for leading me to it.

The women working in the aircraft fuselage in the top picture are at a Douglas Aircraft Factory (although they are in California, and the mother mentioned above works in Tulsa) working on a Flying Fortress in 1942. The picture is from the Library of Congress. The fashion sketch, for spring 1941, is from the New York Public Library digital collection.

12 comments:

  1. Thanks for the shout out Moira. I just checked my "recorded" stash and whilst I have one more Hart on the pile to read - it isn't this one! A shame because it sounds quite interesting. I think I was kind of surprised by how much I enjoyed her books, with the two I read.

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    1. I think I'd say the same Col. And this one gave such a compelling picture of life in the US during the war - I've often read books set in the UK at that time, it was good to see another side.

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  2. Moira - This does sound like an interesting look at wartime Oklahoma. And I always respect an author who can tell you a story and draw you in, but who still has important points to make. Nice when they can convince of their points without preaching. And I have to say, I love that attitude towards women wearing pants, as portrayed in the snippet you shared - so revealing of the times.

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    1. I have been impressed by both books I read by her. She has a very good style and you get a feeling for honestly and reality. She has written a very large number of books!

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  3. Not read anything by Hart before (I do have a bit of an aversion to the modern 'cozy') but this sounds a bit out of the norm Moira, thanks

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    1. I know exactly what you mean, Sergio, but this was unusual, and I was very glad I had read it.

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  4. Wow. I'm so glad to know about this book... especially since my mom actually DID grow up in a small town in Oklahoma during WWII, and my great-aunt worked at the Douglas plant in Tulsa. I'm familiar with Carolyn Hart as a mystery author, but had never heard of this book. Thanks!!!!!!

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    1. Oh you must definitely read this book Molly - it sounds as though it was made for you....

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  5. Moira, I haven't read anything by Carolyn Hart but I have read stories set in and around small-town America during WWII, some of which as I remember were quite delightful.

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    1. Prashant, I don't think I've read enough books in that time and place, and would like to read some more. This one was very good, I thought.

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  6. Moira, thanks for linking to my blog. You beat me to the book and I am not surprised. I am looking forward to reading it someday. Glad to hear that you enjoyed it. The setting, both time and place, should be interesting. I am doing a 50 state challenge (with no deadline) so here is a book for Oklahoma.

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    1. I think you'll like it. It really made an impression on me, and I loved the picture of daily life in small-town America in the 1940s.

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