Woman Enters Left

Written by Jessica Brockmole
Review by Kristen McDermott

Fans of “on the road” stories will love this dual-period novel, which follows two friends, aspiring writer Florrie Daniels and abandoned housewife Ethel Wild, on a cross-country odyssey in a Model T to reunite Ethel with her husband and child. That action takes place in 1926 and is told in notes, letters, journals, and fragments of Florrie’s screenplay; the other plot takes place in 1952 as Ethel’s daughter Louise, a discontented film star, traces her mother’s path from California back to New Jersey and discovers the truth behind her early death and her parents’ estrangement.

Brockmole brilliantly captures the romance of early 20th-century car travel; this novel is a love letter to the American system of highways and national parks (the Grand Canyon plays a starring role). The characters are also fully realized, complex and loving. The novel’s structure is less successful in the narrative sections that deal with Louise’s own marital woes, relying too heavily on flashbacks. As the secrets and revelations pile up, the novel’s framework and short length begin to creak under the complex historical and cultural contexts, from same-sex love to the threat of the HUAC to the sad fate of the Radium Girls. But Brockmole’s voice is clear, confident, and compulsively readable. This is a summer read as tasty as the endless slices of pie the characters enjoy on their travels.