First-time author Lowe draws on the experiences of her parents and a well-honed sense of craft for her novel set in the midst of the Great Depression.
In the late spring of 1932, with unemployment hovering near 25 percent and poverty widespread, veterans all over the U.S. mobilize a march on Washington to demand early payment of their World War I bonuses, which are not scheduled to be redeemed until 1945. Veteran-turned-reporter Will Hardy, skeptical of Royal Robertson, leader of Los Angeles’ “Bonus Army,” investigates the charismatic former actor, then covers Robertson’s “Heroes March” of vets on their trek from Hollywood to D.C.; Will’s lover Bonnie Bailey, a statuesque movie extra, soon follows. Meanwhile in the nation’s capital, retired Army general Pelham Glassford, chief of police, attempts to accommodate throngs of bonus marchers while trying to wrest concessions from uncooperative politicians and Army officials. But as more veterans crowd into the city, Congress follows President Hoover’s lead in refusing early payment, a testy General MacArthur readies his troops and the situation quickly approaches a boiling point. Lowe’s briskly paced prose carries all the plot threads forward in a pleasing, almost pulpy style, relishing in period motifs and delivering plenty of risqué encounters. This mode of storytelling has its share of drawbacks, however, as Lowe indulges a bit too much in anachronistic slang and profanity, and her melodramatic narrative borders on didactic in drawing its heroes and villains a bit too broadly. Also, the novel’s overt political stance sometimes overstates the justness of the Bonus Army’s cause and somewhat undercuts the enormity of what happened to them. But despite these shortcomings, Lowe has clearly done her homework (she especially knows her way around 1930s L.A.), and this novel serves as an strong first effort.
An engrossing debut that would benefit from a more nuanced approach.