After the War
After the War takes place during and after World War II in a college town in North Carolina. The novel follows the characters from A Southern Exposure. James Russell Lowell Byrd, a principal figure from the first novel, keels over from a heart attack before he has a chance to sleep with every woman in town. One he didn’t miss was Cynthia Baird, a transplanted Yankee who moved her husband and daughter to the South so she could be near her favorite poet.
Racial and social mores of the 1940’s provide the primary interest of the novel. Adultery wafted through the town like the pine-scented breeze off the mountains, and far fewer of the townspeople were allergic. A seemingly improbable plot device involves characters constantly espying each other in various stages of the act of love, but upon reflection, it may have been more implausible if they weren’t stumbling over each other. The invariably idealized Black characters (a Harvard quarterback studying to be a college philosophy professor, a naval war hero, a domestic with a genius for folk art, etc.) understandably avoid sex with the local Whites, although some have to fight off the daughter of a New York Jewish Communist family.
The war lurks in the background, opening up romantic opportunities through overseas postings and taking them away with travel restrictions. Cynthia’s husband becomes involved with a British noblewoman named Lady Veracity, and she ruminates on the affair. “How cheap of him, how trite. American Naval Officer and His Lady. It’s the dumbest story I ever heard of, and I wish it were someone else’s.” In a more self-reflective novel, this might have been taken to show the heroine criticizing the author for betraying her with a mere stock character.
The carefully constructed plot makes the book worth reading. Relationships build in interesting and unexpected ways as the characters deal with military service, refugee work and an uncertain future. After V-J Day, characters still ask themselves what they’re going to do after the war.
Reading A Southern Exposure first is recommended. After the War recapitulates some of the plot of its predecessor, but involvement of the characters increases if you know more of their history.