It’s a hot July in 1941 rural Georgia. Plucky Mae Lee, almost eight, feels overshadowed by her beautiful, sultry teenage sister, and barely noticed by her sick mother and preoccupied father. But when a handsome Army paratrooper comes courting her sister, the kindness he shows Mae Lee makes her feel valued. While the lieutenant risks death to spy and sabotage in Burma, Mae Lee finds she must spy and sabotage in her own house so that her beloved soldier has someone to come home to.
When the soldier returns a hero, wounded in body and spirit, he marries the girl he thinks he knows. Mae Lee, growing into a teen, faces the biggest challenge of her life as the marriage spectacularly unravels. She must make a choice that will change her life forever.
Well-begun is half done, and debut novelist Lovett captures us on the very first page of this story set in rural Georgia inthe middle of the last century. What snares us so quickly is the narrator, Mae Lee Willis, daughter of Gwen and Chap and long-suffering kid sister of the insufferable Ava. Headstrong Ava is beautiful and sexy and damn well knows it. She sets her cap for Duke Radford, scion of the well-to-do Radfords. And she wins him just before he goes off to fight in WWII. But true to form, she lets handsome Hardy Pritchett, a married man, romance her while Duke is gone. Hardy falls down the stairs of his house and breaks his neck! Duke comes back (yes, it’s he who sent her the ruby earrings from Burma), and they marry, but theglamorous life that Ava expected does not come to pass.Rather than join his father’s successful manufacturing business, Duke—severely battle fatigued—opts to take over Grandfather Radford’s farm. Duke craves the quiet life; Ava is not pleased. Duke, a good man, deeply loves Ava, but that is not enough for her. Gawky Mae Lee is aware of everything andloves Duke from afar. The plot ignites with the appearance of Jack Austin, Duke’s Army buddy, a thoroughgoing bastard who relishes chaos and seduction. Any conscientious reviewer needs to stop here, but it’s no spoiler to note that Jack wreaks considerable havoc. This book is wonderfully written. Every bit of dialogue rings true. The reader will properly hate Ava but finally—thanks to Mae Lee—come to a more nuanced view of her than might seem possible.The conclusion—less talented novelists take note—might seem too easy, like too much wish fulfillment. But it is not, simply because Lovett prepares it, works hard at it, and writes so well.
Exceptionally satisfying; Lovett is the real deal.