Two wealthy young socialites travel from Manhattan to the trenches of World War I in biographer Seebohm’s fiction debut (No Regrets, 1997, etc.).
Dorothea and Iris Crosby are insulated, intellectual and inseparable; they spend their days writing poetry and riding horses. When their maid loses relatives in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, they are shocked out of their sheltered existence. Their older brother tries to distract them with European travel, but even that’s not enough to restore their faith in lyric verse or their interest in equestrian pursuits. When the Great War breaks out, they decide to volunteer as Red Cross nurses. They discover not just filth and brutality, but also a world of experiences for which they are ill prepared. The war to end all wars ends well enough for the Allied Powers, but not for the Crosby girls. The point of this narrative lies, presumably, in the contrast between Iris and Dorothea’s upbringing and the savagery they witness at the front. It’s hard to tell, though, from Seebohm’s prose. She has one mode—expository—and she never delves below the surface of characters or events. In one scene, a young fighter pilot named Harry remembers his days as a star athlete and considers how his life after college pales in comparison. As he tries to imagine how he might have explained this to the fiancée who’s just jilted him, he thinks, “It cannot be understood unless you have experienced it.” Seebohm’s writing is awkward, and she makes neither her characters nor their times real for the reader.
Fails both as a period piece and as a story.