This Heart of Mine offers two short works introducing Rita Strauss and Glory Astor through a glimpse at an important moment in each of their lives. These characters meet in the novel I’ll Be Seeing You which details their relationship through letters as they share the absence of their loves, both of whom have gone to fight in WWII. This prequel, however, takes the reader to 1921 in Chicago where Rita struggles to keep a roof over her head by working in a diner and 1940s Rockport where socialite Glory is finds all her dreams coming true.
These are two very different women in circumstance and time, but both stories are full of heart and complication.
Rita is trying to figure out what to do after her father’s death has left her with little money and no one to call her own. She’s caring and attentive to the people around her, but puts her own needs aside, a fact no clearer than in her nervousness around a customer at the diner who is a handsome medical student. She builds fantasies up in her mind, but lacks the self-confidence to let him know how she feels. He attracts the attention of the other young waitress, but he’s focused on her, something she fails to realize until almost too late.
The story is a lovely, low-key romance between two people who are well suited in many ways, but what caught my attention is how clearly the times became through description and events. I went with Rita to her first speakeasy, experiencing her doubts when faced with the choice of accepting drinks and what expectations might follow, but also just walking through her daily life gave a strong sense of place and neighborhood.
Glory’s tale is more complicated and less critical in a lot of ways as childhood friendships turn into love, leaving her forced to make a choice between two friends she’d never realized were in competition. Again, the scene is well drawn, and her confusion clear.
Of the two, I preferred the first, but enjoyed both. I feel the stories show a strong hand at writing not just the period but also the people and their concerns. It bodes well for the story in I’ll Be Seeing You.