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Customer Review

on June 10, 2011
Nothing But a Smile has an interesting setting and a great cover, but the novel falls short of its potential. It is too obviously plot-driven; characters are used to move the story along, not to do what comes naturally from who they are as characters. Take for example Chesty, the absent husband. When his buddy Wink comes back early from the war and meets Chesty's chesty wife, it's obvious they are going to get together, but in the chaste world of this story, they can't while there's an overseas hubby to pine for. You can quickly guess whether or not Chesty is going to make it home or not.

And the story is chaste, despite being a description of the world of 1940's smutmongers. Sal would never cheat on her husband, and Wink makes a show of looking around for a new place to live whenever Sal accidentally kisses him or sniffs his shirt. There is no hint of the seedy underbelly of sin that underlies the surface of conservative morality of 1940's America a la James Ellroy, and when the authorities come sniffing around their soft porn operation it's depicted as persecution. And yet there is still a disturbing amount of talk about "boners" and "waxing the dolphin" and those awkward "Chesty" jokes.

The historical era of the story's setting seems to go by without ever affecting the story itself. A young intern named "Hef" comes through the pinup operation with wild ideas about revolutionizing the soft core porn industry, but winds up another throwaway character, a brief aside like HUAC, J. Edgar Hoover, and V-J day.

The ending is ambiguous; without making an overt judgement, the story shows that the choices the characters have made impact where they'll be living for the rest of their lives, and then lets it drop. There's no character arc here, no sense of what they've learned or how they've changed, just a summing up by one of the now elderly characters in the epilogue.
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