Our immediate family has experienced four military deployments of at least a year each. Retired now, my husband says he’d go again if called, and so would many others. But he notes this fully aware of the holes left in many soldiers’ lives. In fact, he’s still a helpful sounding board to returned soldiers whenever he has the opportunity.
When he speaks to groups about war, he always notes its toll on spouses and parents and children and friends. In fact, he usually claims that I’ve gone through more deployments than he has. Fact is, though, his father fought in both World War II and Vietnam—my husband knows what it’s like to stay behind.
Nearly half a million soldiers died in World War II, and many World War I vets’ hearts ached as they watched their sons and other young men join the forces. My mom used to tell about her two older brothers going off to war, and when I think of the story behind my debut novel In This Together, it’s clear that war forms the unseen plot foundation.
We meet Dottie Kyle, the heroine, an everyday Iowa woman, making do as best she can. Her son made the ultimate sacrifice in North Africa, and Dottie will never be the same.
Dottie also lost her daughter Cora, for all practical purposes, when Cora left right after high school to work in a California munitions factory. Cora met a sailor, got married and settled down in the Golden State. Dottie hasn’t even seen her two beautiful grandchildren, born out West. No SKYPE back then, either.
Then, just as the war ended, Dottie’s husband died. Whoosh—suddenly, she’s alone, except for another daughter who lives an hour and a half away.
So we meet Dottie making do in her small rural community. Every day, she ties on her apron to cook and clean at the local boarding house. The job gives her a reason to get up in the morning, even though the pain in her bum knee intensifies with all the stairs to climb.
The story wraps around a typical Midwestern town in 1946. Things are as normal as they’ll ever seem again, and work provides purpose and a paycheck. But when Cora’s third pregnancy develops complications and she needs her mom desperately, some old, haunting fears arise for Dottie and hinder her even considering a cross-country train trip.
And then Dottie’s next-door neighbor Al starts showing her unexpected attention. Al’s former wife, Dottie’s best friend, died of cancer a few years earlier, and Dottie doesn’t know what to think of Al’s timid advances. (The publisher classifies Dottie’s story as SUPER SWEET, which means there’s nary a reason to blush between the covers.)
But there’s plenty of reason to think about how times must’ve been back then, and to consider how all these changes, right in a row, impacted a down-to-earth, ordinary woman. Not one to bemoan her plight, Dottie puts her hand to daily tasks and finds some satisfaction in meeting the boarders’ needs. She carries her losses quietly, but they hit her full force when she’s home alone in the evenings.
Little does she know the changes about to erupt at the boarding house, and in her own viewpoints. I think you’ll like Dottie and cheer for her to overcome her fears—as Al likes to say, she’s a peach of a gal.
Our stories are our best gifts, and blooming late has its advantages—the novel fodder never ends. Gail Kittleson writes from northern Iowa, where she and her husband enjoy gardening and grandchildren. WhiteFire Publishing released Gail’s memoir, Catching Up With Daylight in 2013, and her debut women’s historical fiction, In This Together (Wild Rose Press/Vintage Line) greets the world on November 18. Please feel free to contact her—meeting new reading friends is the frosting on her cake!