A debut novel delivers a family drama set in England in the years immediately following World War II.
Elizabeth Borge was working at a U.S. air base in England in the late 1940s when she met Lonnie Caradine, an American technical sergeant who quickly swept her off her feet. Lonnie gets her pregnant—twice—and promises to marry her, but returns to the U.S. and eventually admits that he is already wed to another. Then Beth becomes pregnant again; the father is a married man named Carl. In a fit of depressive despair, she attempts to kill herself by swallowing a swarm of pills, but she survives, as does her third child, Natalie. Beth finds herself charged with a bevy of crimes, including the attempted murder of her unborn daughter. Beth’s mother, Mary, with whom she suffers a historically strained relationship, helps her secure a lawyer and successfully solicit a letter from President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Air Force. They admit Lonnie’s parentage of two children and guarantee his financial support, allowing Beth to elude jail time. While she recovers in a hospital, her son, Steven, and her first daughter, Lizzie, live with Mary and adjust to a new home and routine. Once Beth is released, she and her mother convert a portion of Mary’s home into a boardinghouse. They first rent to a rowdy Irish family that withholds payment until the two take legal action, and then to an Indian man, Dan Patel, whom Beth eventually marries. Sherouse bases her touching novel on her own life and adopts shifting perspectives. She recounts the action sometimes through Beth’s eyes and sometimes from the vantage point of Mary or Lizzie, a fictional device that is by turns epistemologically intriguing and a bit confusing. The author’s artistic range is considerable—she hits lightheartedly jocose notes with the same aplomb that she depicts the grimly serious, like Lizzie’s sexual abuse at the hands of Patel. But the plot can get bogged down in the humdrum depiction of quotidian affairs—the book often seems to be a memoir-like catalog of events rather than a dramatic novel—and as a result the pace can be slack.
A tender, if disjointed, account of a dysfunctional British family.