Letter From Home

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the sweltering summer of 1944, Oklahoma teenager Gretchen Gilman is caught up in the aftermath of a murder when her neighbor Faye Tatum is strangled in her own living room. Faye’s soldier husband Clyde disappears, and local lawmen are divided over whether Clyde or another man—perhaps a boyfriend—murdered Faye. The Tatum’s neighbors remember unconventional Faye as a sinful woman, who danced with other men in a bar while her husband was away in the service, and deserved what she got.

Although not immune to her neighbors’ conservative notions of propriety, Gretchen wants to believe the Tatum’s teenage daughter when she insists her mother was never unfaithful and her father could not be a killer. As a summer reporter for her hometown daily paper, Gretchen decides to uncover the truth about the Tatum’s tragedy, but years will pass before she learns what really happened to Faye and Clyde.

Carolyn Hart’s prose captures the gee-whiz enthusiasm of a young girl and new writer. World War II touches every aspect of life in Gretchen’s little town: most men have left for the service; food, shoes, gasoline, and other goods are scarce; and Gretchen’s beloved grandmother has renamed the family restaurant to disguise her German name. The novel is full of details about food and clothes, adding interest and nicely conveying Gretchen’s youthful pride in doing even small things properly. While the puzzle of Faye Tatum’s murder is easily solved, Letter From Home is nonetheless a lovely snapshot of small-town life during World War II.