Eric B. Miller’s Hula Girls delivers an engrossing epic about a young Navy wife who grapples with her life in Honolulu amidst the outbreak of WWII.
Happily married, 23-year-old Claudia Wyler spends her days perusing the pages of Woman’s Home Companion and waiting for her husband Jack, an ambitious junior officer, to arrive home for dinner. Her life revolves around him as she strives to be the perfect wife. In her perspective, “husbands went to work somewhere every day, getting their buffaloes, and the wives stayed home to keep the lid on everything.”
Following the Pearl Harbor attack and the loss of her husband, Claudia must learn to survive independently. She becomes closer with her newly widowed neighbor, and the two enter the workforce, where Claudia proves to be a surprisingly adept auto mechanic. Yet financial obstacles persist, leading Claudia to a double life as a sex worker; she subjects herself to degradation and danger, despite the possibility of security with a serious suitor. Throughout this downward trajectory, she remains determined to prevail.
Claudia is an unforgettable character. A Sweet Briar graduate, she’s more intelligent than some of her scatterbrained antics might indicate and adept at responding to crises, even if in an unorthodox way. Although she obsessively holds on to memories of the past, she forges forward on her journey from self-absorbed to self-sacrificing.
Despite the book’s length, short chapters and surprising twists keep the story moving, while pop culture references skillfully evoke the era. As events develop, Miller subtly reveals details that shed greater light on past occurrences. A superb storyteller, the author indulges in dry humor and wordplay, writing, “Claudia thought her can of worms was nothing like Annette’s kettle of fish, but they felt free to speak in an advisory capacity about what they had in their buckets.”
This is an immersive novel that examines how one reconciles with the past, while providing insight into American women’s changing roles in the mid-twentieth century.
Also available as an ebook.