Kathryn Miller Haines, The Winter of Her Discontent (2008)

Dear Rosie,

I so enjoyed hearing from you again after your last adventures in “The War against Miss Winter” that I thought you might enjoy reading a letter from me once more. I hope I’m not crowding your mailbox, but letters are so important in your life right now, in this winter 1943. Letters from friends and fiancés on the front, arriving so censored with black that you can hardly decipher the content. Official letters from the Army announcing terrible news. Or blackmail letters, implying deceit and threats.

My poor Rosie, your life isn’t “rosy” at all (excuse my pun), and while you’re determined to make it in Broadway, you’re still a long way from stardom! It’s terrible for me to admit it, because you’re such a nice girl, but I kept giggling all along the book and it would be a dreadful bore if you just acted in famous shows with nice people, or just sat at home listening for the war news on the radio and pining for your lost fiancé.

But we both know you’re not that type of gal. With a war on, your world is dancing on the brink of disaster. Actors and showbiz people (and you too!) offer to entertain soldiers at the Canteen, and you all dance the night away but everyone is not as nice as they seemed. Soldiers are desperate to make friends with as many girls as possible during their leave, but some girls have no qualms about dating many of them and don’t expect to remain faithful to them. Yes, the home front can be grim some times, with food rationing and funny-tasting sandwiches filled with even stranger meat. But when things get too grim, you reach for the cocktail shaker and make sure you don’t take things too seriously.

This time, just for your best friend Jayne’s sake (and following complicated circumstances), you  auditioned for the corps de ballet of a lousy, cheesy, patriotic show, and to your own dismay, you were cast, even though dancing is not your forte. But as you go along (with lots of blisters), you discover that this show has not only plagued by a terrible scenario and a bad team of dancers (to be trained by a German masquerading as an Irish for political reasons!), but also that the money and the theatre have been provided to the director by a gangster, and that a series of strange and serious incidents befall the company, that put the whole show at risk.

I really liked the way you described your life and the moral scruples that everyone faced in those difficult times. Finding the truth and the right thing to do was even more difficult than in peace times. Officially, everyone was supporting the boys overseas, but there was also a lot of greed and self-interest. Your light tone (and the 1940s lingo and jokes) of the first half of the book is later replaced by a surprisingly dark resolution. You started out like a comedy in black and white (I’m no movie buff) and you ended right like a film noir à la Bogart, or maybe like Touch of Evil by Orson Wells. But you’re doing equally fine in both roles!

Keep on with the good job, and please write to me if you’re going to tour with the USO!
Yours,

Smithereens

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