This is one review I’ve dreaded and looked forward to writing. My fear is that I won’t do it justice, won’t be able to impart even a glimmer of what this book is about to the future prospective readers.
Clair de Lune, Jetta Carleton’s last and thought to be lost (blown away in a 2003 tornado) novel finally came to print in 2012 and surely the world of literature is a better place for it. Click here for more information on the book’s fascinating back-story.
This is a leisurely slow read that plays out like a 1940's black and white film, extremely written and cinematic. If you’re looking for gritty, realistic Southern fiction like the works of Carson McCullers or Eudora Welty (as I was), you won’t find it in this book.
This is the story of Allen (short for Barbara Allen), a first year teacher in a new junior college in rural Missouri at the brink of WWII. Allen really wants to go to New York City and possible be a writer but she realizes she needs to work for a while to build up a nest egg first. Despite the fact that her heart really isn’t into her teaching position, she makes the most of it and soon becomes very popular with the students. Her favorites are two male students, George and Toby. They peg her for a kindred spirit and soon begin hanging out with her during their spare time away from school. It’s all innocent at first, just meeting at her apartment, listening to records and discussing literature but soon they graduate to prowling the town at night, playing hide and seek in the fog, drinking cheap beer and singing as they walk through the dark alleys.
Allen and Toby begin a romantic relationship on the shy when George isn’t around and Allen blooms like a neglected, thirsty flower. It’s her first love and it’s every bit as thrilling as she’d hoped. After a period of time, the news gets back to the school board and the other teachers that Allen is not only seen fraternizing with male students after hours in sketchy locations throughout the town but also inviting them back to her apartment at night…
You might shrug your shoulders and say, “So what?” This book take place in 1940, that sort of thing wasn’t supposed to happen back then. Female teachers really had to tow the line and lead a very pure and circumspect life. Unmarried women didn’t invite men into her house at night and certainly not teachers… but Allen did. Her friendship with George and Toby is something so dear to her heart that she just doesn’t understand how other people might view the situation in a darker light. The other teachers stop talking to her and begin excluded her from social events and worse of all, she loses George and Toby. What to do? Does Allen tuck her tail between her legs and begin to lead a proper life befitting a 1940’s schoolteacher or does she follow her heart?