In 1942, Hazel Francis left Wichita, Kansas for California, determined to do her part for the war effort. At Douglas Aircraft, she became one of many “Rosie the Riveters,” helping construct bombers for the U. S. military. But now the war is over, men have returned to their factory jobs, and women like Hazel have been dismissed, expected to return home to become wives and mothers.
Unwilling to be forced into a traditional woman’s role in the Midwest, Hazel remains on the west coast, and finds herself in the bohemian town of Laguna Beach. Desperate for work, she accepts a job as an assistant to famous artist Hanson Radcliff. Beloved by the locals for his contributions to the art scene and respected by the critics, Radcliff lives under the shadow of a decades old scandal that haunts him.
Working hard to stay on her cantankerous employer’s good side, Hazel becomes a valued member of the community. She never expected to fall in love with the rhythms of life in Laguna, nor did she expect to find a kindred spirit in Jimmy, the hotel bartender whose friendship promises something more. But Hazel still wants to work with airplanes—maybe even learn to fly one someday. Torn between pursuing her dream and the dream life she has been granted, she is unsure if giving herself over to Laguna is what her heart truly wants.
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.