cover image Ellen and the Barber: Three Love Stories of the Thirties

Ellen and the Barber: Three Love Stories of the Thirties

Frank O'Rourke. Thomas Dunne Books, $20.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-312-19263-1

At his death, O'Rourke (1916-1989), prolific author of mysteries, sports books and westerns, left the three interlinked, robust love stories that are published here for the first time. Set in and around the same generic and atmospherically detailed Midwestern town of Bent Fork, they follow three strong female protagonists from the false prosperity of the 1920s through the Depression. Dress-shop salesgirl Ellen Kellner, heroine of the title piece, on the rebound from a fling with her high school's football coach, defies the town's hypocritical propriety by carrying on a furtive affair with a married barber whose sideline is bootlegging. The surprise ending is heartwarming. Touching and tender, ""Miriam"" features pragmatic hog farmer Miriam Allen, who weighs her prime responsibilities--caring for her dying father and their farm--against a marriage proposal from the man she dearly loves, the town's high-school principal. In ""Vera,"" the suspenseful final story, amoral Vera Stensrud, whose idol is Amelia Earhart--symbol of her own unfound freedom--abets her parents, bankrupt farmers who have turned to armed robbery. O'Rourke's writing is smooth, briskly paced and enlivened by strong characterizations of even the minor players. He writes realistically about sex, depicting it as a source of solace, connection, compensatory pleasure and communication-- yet an act only fitfully linked to genuine lasting love. Editor, Ruth Cavin; agent, Carlson and Nichols. (Sept.)