A serpentine series of relationships draws four families together as they struggle with the American dream.
Tinged with comedy, tragedy and trials both plausible and not, the story chronicles the disparate lives and fortuitous intermingling of four households representing a wide cross section of the social and economic landscape of 1950s America. Sarah Robbins, a nightclub singer from Ohio, is the most bruised and compelling character. First taken in as a teenaged orphan by the married Judge Kinslow, the old man soon swindles her out of her inheritance and seduces her into a sexual relationship. Left alone and penniless with Kinslow’s son to support, she struggles to rise above her unfortunate circumstances and a powerful addiction to alcohol to raise the boy right. Neil Dvorak, a mournful cabinetmaker, tries to make the best of not one, but two, broken marriages while trying to protect his daughter from the world’s perils. Dolores Drake plans her escape from both Alabama and her husband, a vicious drunk and diehard bigot, and finds her salvation in a black woman named Ruthie Jackson. In California, David and Karen Stratton are the picture-perfect family on the outside, living a life the other characters only see on sitcoms flickering on their black-and-white televisions. But their suburban life has a looming darkness that threatens to come crashing in. Add in all the children, lovers, friends and neighbors and it’s a sea of characters to account for, but Valentine effectively tracks each of them and merges their storylines together. While many of the plotlines veer toward soap opera–and certainly, daytime drama fans will eat this up–the author’s portrayal of both the post-war triumphs and the dismal social failures of an evolving nation make Better Days Ahead a worthy beginning for a promised trilogy.
An elaborate story of love, loss and the psychic toll of progress.