It’s WWII and Evergreen House, a stately old mansion in Kansas City, has opened its doors to servicemen training at the air force base with nowhere else to go. The novel is slight on plot, being more of a character study — Cynthia Barstow its chief concern. With Gran’s advancing age, the running of the house has fallen increasingly more on her granddaughter. All around her she sees a constant stream of men, most of whom she’ll never see again after they’re shipped out, and a fair number no one will ever see again. And she sees love affairs and hasty marriages — ill advised at times, perhaps, but all passionate. Cynthia accepts without complaint her responsibility to the house and to Gran and to the men, but at the back of her mind she worries that, when the war is over, when the men are gone and Gran too, she’ll be all alone in Evergreen House — the last of the Barstows.
Inscription: “Property of Norwich State Hospital Patients Library” says the plate pasted inside the front cover. Over it has been written “Discarded 10-29 – 48 Chappell”.
Deirdre is a wealthy heiress who stumbles into Bill’s life accidentally, at her wits end about what to do with Precious and Phillipe. P&P are, respectively, her late father’s second wife and stepson. Precious thought the fortune was Bart’s or else there’s little chance she would have married him, but now P&P live on at Riverview on Deirdre’s dime, and Deirdre — so desperate is she to avoid any and all conflict — can’t bear to throw them out.
But back to Bill. Bill’s an ad man, his mother Eleanor is a landscaper. Deirdre was fleeing from her troubles to California, but Bill persuades her to stay with them. His mother’s looking for assistant — at least, that’s the pretext. Bill, of course, really wants Deirdre to stay because he’s fallen madly in love. And it isn’t long before Deirdre responds in kind, although there is the hitch that she’s sorta-kinda already engaged to Arthur. Arthur’s been off for years in India or Tibet or maybe it’s Mexico now — you can never tell with Arthur; his interest burns fierce but is out quickly. Deirdre is quite sure he’s already forgotten, and he would have, were it not for Phillipe.
Phillipe, chafing under what seems to him an exceedingly small allowance, has attempted to win financial independence by investing in a fine and upstanding center for the artistic endeavors and bathtub gin — mostly bathtub gin — but unfortunately it’s just been raided and Phillipe needs cash to stay out of jail. One sob story to Arthur later, twisting the truth only slightly by replacing Deirdre’s name for his own, and Phillipe is in the clear and with several thousand to spare. But Arthur, chivalrously, must of course now marry his technically fiancee.
Cutting the story short, Bill thinks he’s been thrown over and Deirdre can’t forgive him his doubts and both are positively miserable until Eleanor patches it up. Arthur’s already skipped away to chase after opals in Central America, P&P take their newfound riches with them to Paris, and Bill and Deirdre are left at Riverview to plan their Christmas wedding.
Inscription: On the flyleaf, “Bill Platt, From Ann”. Relative, perhaps?
Joyce and the several other lodgers at Frankie’s boarding house live together like a big family. Ward is in love with Joyce, but while she loves him too, she’s not sure if it’s the right kind of love — the marrying kind. Two new boarders appear: Garret and his brother Tony. Tony is blind and Garret has devoted himself to his care. Garret has an unyielding, rigid morality that Joyce at first admires, thinking it’s a strength. She falls madly in love with him and they’re engaged to be married. Then Garret abandons her without a word — believing her guilty of some minor indiscretion that, in his mind, he’s magnified to the highest inexcusable and unpardonable sin. Joyce takes it very hard but at last realizes that Garret’s fanaticism is borne of cowardice and not strength. He lacks faith — in her and in general — and that’s what makes him intolerant and self-destructive. Joyce discovers in Ward’s patient, unconditional kindness that true love she’d been looking for.
Just going off the text and without having done any other research, I’m going to assume this was the author’s first published book. It has all the unevenness I’ve come to expect from neophyte authors. There are the bones of a story here, and the big key scenes and monologues are impressive and well written, but what links them together is the most hackneyed drivel you’ll ever read.
Inscription: Signed on the front endpaper, in the smallest script imaginable, “Annie Wilkinson”.