Alice “Al” Huffman comes from the potato fields of Long Island with her beau, her best girlfriend and her girlfriend’s beau to make it on the Broadway stage only to find she has no talent. On the kids’ first day in New York City, they meet Maxwell P. Hartwell III, a failed nightclub owner and Broadway producer, who, according to Al, looks a little like Clark Gable. He invites them to a nightclub where Al hears Juliana, the glamorous, perpetually-on-the-brink-of stardom nightclub singer, sing for the first time. Al is instantly drawn to her and seeks her out. Juliana, a sexual risk-taker, easily reels in the mesmerized Al. Al is increasingly pulled into a secret gay underworld of men who wear hula skirts and women who smoke cigars, while her childhood friends continue in their “normal” lives. Al glides easily between the two worlds until these worlds begin to collide.
Vanda's Juliana is composed of piquant prose that is at once ethereal like smoke rings and snug as a snood. It's pitch niether too sharp nor too flat, the novel strolls along sequentially, with everything in apple-pie order.
Vanda's clean-shaven style amplifies the creative ways lesbians and gays in the 1940s compartmentalized thier identities like meals at an automat.
Vanda's research includes not only attitudes, specific places, and the music of the times (this in itself is fun), but all the lingo, the slang, the dances, the clothes will put you right in the groove. Reading "Juliana" truly is time travel, if you let yourself deeply immerse. Put on the radio or a record on the gramophone and sail away. By the end of the volume, you'll be aching for the next one.--Sandra de Helen
Juliana 1941-1944 is the first book in a series of books about the LGBT underworld of New York in the 1940s to the present. It's daring to stage a novel word for word, pages in hand, but it works at The Duplex, gifting the audience with song and laughter and heartache. --Holli Harms