ELLEN AND THE BARBER by Frank O’Rourke

ELLEN AND THE BARBER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Surprisingly wonderful posthumous trio of love stories by the late O’Rourke (over 60 books, including mysteries, westerns, etc.), who had a keen eye for female psychology. All three tales, set during the Depression, seem written fairly near to the years described, with characters about as weighty as Willa Cather’s. The title story, set in the Midwest, begins before the Wall Street crash as the beautiful Ellen Kellner, a high- school senior, is chosen as the object of his seductive powers by the school’s handsome and famously talented bachelor coach. Twelve years her senior, he year after year (and quietly) seduces a selected beauty, say the Homecoming Queen, on the day after her graduation. Now, he wins Ellen, only to drop her after selecting his next victim and preparing his trap. Ellen by then lives alone with her older sister, Twila, who’s been conducting a frank and longstanding affair with a married traveling man, and after business college must settle for a job at Rosensweig’s dress store. The handsome married barber down the street, who is also a bootlegger, has an eye for her and sets up a pleasant, if unromantic, liaison. When he’s arrested with her on a trip to Chicago to pick up alcohol, their names are published in the local paper—and then Ellen’s real problems begin. In “Miriam,” we find a young farm girl caught up in the sexual undertow of small-town life; and in “Vera,” the independent daughter of bank robbers pursues a man pledged to another. Readers will slowly but surely find themselves spellbound by these period dramas, by their tight storytelling, their strong female focus, and their forthright sex (unlike the women’s magazine fiction of the day).

Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-19263-0
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1998