The Courtship of Eva Eldridge: A Story of Bigamy in the Marriage-Mad Fifties
By Diane Simmons. (University of Iowa, 272 pages, $19.95.)
This is a curious book, reading almost like fiction, yet it is a true story, unearthed when Eva Eldridge named Diane Simmons, a family friend, to be executor of her estate. Among the possessions were 800 letters, tightly bound, clearly meant to be saved. Simmons, a former journalist, was intrigued. What she discovered is an unusual look at post-World War II America, when a national relief at having survived the Great Depression and war created a climate when marriage — to anyone — was a celebratory triumph. When Eva met Vick, he promised her more of the vibrant life she'd come to know as an independent working woman, one of millions who took up the slack when men were shipped overseas. When he disappeared, she figured it was war trauma.
But in tracking him down, Eva learned that she was one of several wives. Simmons was captivated. Who was Vick? What drove him to eventually be married to 10 women at once? She finds a reasonable answer. But the more compelling glimpse is into how people exploited the culture's postwar romance with marriage and homemaking, and how some women learned that finding fulfillment in this life was mostly fantasy. "Courtship" is less about Eva than about expectations, but her story brings history to a poignantly personal level.
By Sarah Domet. (Flatiron Books, 340 pages, $25.99.)
Four girls abandoned by their parents become friends at a convent school — an orphanage, really — in a never-identified small town during The War (presumably World War I or II). They are drawn together because they share a birth name — Guinevere.
Vere, the narrator, is a devout and hopeful child, pining for the mother who dumped her there. Gwen, the pretty one, is vain and often cruel, but she has her reasons. Win is strong and loyal. Ginny is tiny, shy, frail. Each has a tragic story that slips out over time. They are lonely, abandoned, brave children whose friendship with each other is the best thing they have going in an isolated convent, where life is harsh and boring.
When four gravely wounded, comatose soldiers are brought to the convent's nursing home, the girls hatch a plot to escape by becoming linked with the young men, who may or may not ever regain consciousness. It's a bizarre plot that becomes a beautiful, sad, engaging story in the hands of American author Sarah Domet, one that gracefully jumps from the girls' present lives to their pasts to their futures, not necessarily in that order. This, her very first novel, belongs in the ranks of the best books of 2016.