cover image Good Night, Irene

Good Night, Irene

Luis Alberto Urrea. Little, Brown, $29 (336p) ISBN 978-0-316-26585-0

Urrea (The House of Broken Angels) transports readers to the Western Front of WWII in his stunning latest. Irene Woodward, a tough New Yorker, covers up the bruises received from her abusive fiancé with concealer and sweaters, throws her engagement ring down the drain, and joins America’s war effort as a member of the Red Cross Clubmobile. Tasked with high expectations—keep driving and keep smiling—Irene is sent to England alongside Dorothy Dunford, who, much like Irene, is looking for an escape from her life. The two become fast friends while serving coffee and doughnuts and trying to comfort the soldiers, a nebulous task defined in the chaste terms of the day (they should act like a “big sister, girl next door, mom or sweetheart”). As the U.S. efforts advance, Irene fears she has lost Dorothy, who’s become like a sister, after they are separated in an accident; eventually, she goes home to New York to rebuild a life marred with survivor’s guilt and shell shock. In a move that could feel contrived but only further elevates the work, Urrea bookends the wrenching narrative with a surprising discovery 50 years later. It’s a moving and graceful tribute to friendship and to heroic women who have shouldered the burdens of war. Agent: Julie Barer, Book Group. (May)