cover image Hotel Laguna

Hotel Laguna

Nicola Harrison. St. Martin’s, $29 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-27738-1

Harrison (Montauk) chronicles a woman’s effort to reinvent herself after WWII in her appealing latest. Hazel Francis leaves Wichita, Kans., at 19 in 1942 for a manufacturing job with Douglas Aircraft in El Segundo, Calif. After the war ends, Hazel loses her job and eventually ends up at Laguna Beach, where she finds a spot assisting artist Hanson Radcliff. As Hazel adjusts to the mercurial Hanson and insinuates herself in the beachside community, she volunteers for the annual artists’ Pageant of the Masters, a show where live models pose as the subjects of paintings. Hazel befriends a bartender named Jimmy, though her hopes for romance are quashed after she discovers his longtime girlfriend is joining him at Laguna Beach. Meanwhile, Hazel helps the prickly Hanson recover a missing painting of his onetime lover, actor Isabella Rose, who died by suicide after he ended their relationship. Though the episodic threads don’t develop into a traditional plot, they succeed in coloring in various aspects of Hazel’s life. The author pulls no punches in her account of the difficulties Hazel faces as a woman in postwar America, and the descriptions of the historical pageant are convincing. Harrison’s story of self-determination is one to savor. (June)