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HULA GIRLS by Eric B. Miller


by Eric B. Miller

Pub Date: Nov. 18th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-9906893-3-1
Publisher: Milbrown Press

A debut novel tracks a brave and resourceful woman from right before the Pearl Harbor attack through the next 30 years.

When readers first meet Claudia Wyler in Hawaii in 1941, she seems like a real ditz. Her husband, Navy Lt. Jack Wyler, proves to be a controlling and abusive jerk. Then one day, they hear explosions: The Japanese are bombing Pearl Harbor. The couple survive the assault, but Jack is soon killed in a car accident. Claudia is on her own in Hawaii, getting a slim widow’s pension of two bucks a month. Her life then truly begins. At the start of the story, she is an avid reader of women’s magazines that advise her on how to be a perfect wife. And at the end? Well, the destination, as they say, is not as important as the journey. This woman who was born to East Coast privilege learns to be a remarkably good car mechanic, works as a dishwasher in the Grand Hawaiian Hotel, joins a chorus line, and turns into a superb choreographer. And, after hitting rock bottom, she becomes a sex worker, desperately leading a double life. Along the way, she serves as the de facto mother of Edgar Lee, the son of a deceased friend. To say that Claudia is treated shabbily (and worse) is an understatement, but she comes to embody Nietzsche’s famous dictum: Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The tale’s point of view is Claudia’s, and Miller loves to play with clichés (“Claudia thought her can of worms was nothing like Annette’s kettle of fish”) and delightful figurative language (at Adm. Harris’ reception and dance, “the presence of a powder room had eddied a flotsam of ladies”). The author also provides nostalgic period touches, like Ipana toothpaste and Chesterfield and Old Gold cigarettes (the players smoke all the time), so that readers get the sense of being enveloped in a long-ago era. There are skillfully drawn characters, some mysterious and scary like Mr. Anthony and others loyal to the end, such as Annette Anisinelli, Claudia’s best friend. Though it covers only three decades, this story has the feel of a saga and is as satisfying as one.

A wonderful evocation of a time and place and a woman’s indomitable spirit.