Big issues are examined through the lens of a small town after a campaigner for less restrictive undergarments visits Caledonia, Ill., in 1917.
Politics and passions run high in Loewenstein’s spirited if soft-centered debut set in a Middle-American community still in touch with its pioneering past. Women’s liberation, public health standards, even modern art are some of the new ideas entering the conversation, while racism and miscegenation, patronage and prejudice also play their parts in the story. The catalyst for change is anti-corsetry campaigner Marian Elliot Adams, who arrives in town for the Chautauqua convinced that the adoption of her ideas will bring positive results. But Marian has a hard lesson to learn, as do the novel’s other main figures: newspaperman Deuce Garland and his modern-minded stepdaughter, Helen. Over a 12-month span, Deuce will learn to stand up for his past and his future, Helen will follow her destiny to Chicago, and Marian will work for the war effort in France. Reuniting at the Chautauqua in 1918, all three will be more cleareyed about ideas old, new and unmentionable, as well as their co-mingled futures. Although a tendency toward easy solutions undermines the book’s larger ambitions, Loewenstein’s appealing voice and freshness enliven her well-researched story of personal and political ferment.
Engaging first work from a writer of evident ability.