Social Concerns / Themes
The Lovely Leave" is a war story written from the domestic point of view. Set in the United States—most likely New York—during World War II, the story examines war's effects on a particular marriage, that of Steve and Mimi McVicker. What becomes more difficult than the absence suffered when the husband is away with his troops is his return home on leave from the army. Yet the tensions that occur between man and wife illustrate more than just another "battle between the sexes." This happily married couple recreates the cause of war in microcosm.
After Mimi learns that her husband has been granted a twenty-four-hour leave, she recalls a previous leave of his: "There he stood, in their little apartment, a dashing stranger in strange, dashing garments." Steve's strangeness was the first indication that all would not go well. Mimi swears this will not happen again, and prepares for a romantic interlude, buying a seductive black dress, perfumes and bath oils, lingerie, cocktails, and flowers. But after his arrival, she learns his leave has been cut to one hour, and while home he prefers to bathe alone, read a magazine, and prepare for his departure. In a plot familiar to readers of Parker's fiction, Steve appears to be the insensitive male, while Mimi struggles to express how she feels.
The miscommunication in this story, however, is not grounded only in differences between genders. Throughout the war, Mimi has been communicating with her husband according to rules, most likely provided in a handbook for soldiers' wives, a document still used today. Among these rules,
the first of them was the hardest: never say to him what you want him to say to you. Never tell him how sadly you miss him, how it grows no better, how each day without him is sharper than the day before. Set down for him the gay happenings about you, bright little anecdotes, not invented, necessarily, but attractively embellished. Do not bedevil him with the pining of your faithful heart because he is your husband, your man, your love. For you are writing to none of these. You are writing to a soldier.
Unable to state how she feels to her husband in a letter, Mimi finds communication in person even more difficult. Preoccupied with the war and his preparations, Steve does not want to hear Mimi's complaints of loneliness. He tries to avoid the issue with comments such as, "That's nonsense," "Don't do that kind of talk," and "I can't go through this kind of thing." When Mimi responds with anger and coldness, he finally tells her, '"I can't talk about it. I can't even think about it—because if I did I couldn't do my job.'" This, of course, is precisely why the rules of communicating with soldiers are offered to soldier's wives.
Yet the solution—rules that inhibit communication—becomes part of the problem. Steve and Mimi enter into domestic conflict when their communication is thwarted by war and the new rules it imposes. Similarly, wars occur when communication breaks down, when discussion and negotiation are no longer possible. Steve and Mimi enact the process of conflict generation and renewal.