PUBLIC SMILES, PRIVATE TEARS by Helen with James Elward Van Slyke
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PUBLIC SMILES, PRIVATE TEARS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The late Helen Van Slyke's unfinished manuscript about a career-woman who comes of age in the Forties (those unique ""post-flapper, pre-liberation years"") has been beautifully shaped and finished--with convincing, sharp-edged details of the retail fashion business--by the pseudonymous James Elward. Beverly Thyson has a ""schizophrenic desire to be a docile wife and a dominant executive""--Roz Russell style. And, in 1942, Bev is promoted, with the help of boss/pal Sylvia Schlesinger (who has found happiness with an adoring ""failure"" of a husband), to assistant-buyer at Welbys, a prestigious Manhattan specialty store. But the other half of Bev's dream is iffy: after one jilting and one brief degrading affair, she marries gentle, charming, loving Ed Richmond, a ""passive fellow"" who's apt to drift from job to job, never being able to take seriously the rush for ""power and dominance."" In the eyes of the world, then, Ed is weak--while Bev ""yearned to look up to a man. . . . The more he gave her her way, the more she resented his doing so."" So: still loving, regretting, they divorce. And, on her first buying trip with Sylvia to Paris, Bev meets rich, sophisticated Arthur Powers--a sensual, selfish, fascinating sort who tries, unsuccessfully, to possess Bev totally: they're lovers for some years, ""friends"" too, but the relationship will end coldly when Bev discovers that Arthur has been undercutting her corporate advancement. Throughout, in fact, Bev and Sylvia, shrewd gameswomen, must outwit the snipers and steamrollers; Bev even allies herself with the Baroness, a Helena Rubinstein-style cosmetic queen. Thus, though haunted by old dreams (""Where were the men that had been promised. . . strong, kind, decent, eager to become fathers and husbands, ready to move into adulthood?""), Bev becomes tough, takes a young (unfaithful) lover, never cries. . . till, in her 50s, with time at the executive top running out, she muses on the survival tactics of women and ""moves on,"" perhaps--who knows?--in the direction of widower Ed. A top-flight addition to Van Slyke's list of well-tailored parlor treatments of popular female embroilments and concerns--with not a single missed stitch to hint at its posthumous, collaborative history.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1982
Publisher: Harper & Row