Charity Girl explores the little-known to virtually-unheard-of subject of the internment of thousands of American females alleged to be prostitutes in order to deal with the spread of syphilis among troops during World War I. Frieda Mintz, a seventeen-year-old bundle wrapper at a department store in Boston, Massachusetts, not quite an innocent yet in no way a fallen woman, contracts a venereal disease after one encounter with an infected soldier. She is tracked down, housed with “girls of her kind,” humiliated, held with no formal charges, and treated for her illness.
All this would be very compelling if it weren’t presented in such a predictable fashion. If only Lowenthal had the actual perspective of a real detainee (albeit, he admits this fault and lack of obtainable documentation in the author’s notes)… if only the characters weren’t so infuriatingly transparent, so obviously wronged and used, to the point that there is no need to turn the page. The reader knows (or should know) precisely how this novel will progress and come to an end.
This is a case of a truly intriguing subject matter handled in deadpan style by an author whose writing range comes off as limited and flat, especially when the words have to lend themselves to dealing with emotions besides anger.