High school dropout Kit Corrigan might not be able to spell femme fatale, but she’s unwittingly being groomed for the role.
It’s 1950, and the 17-year-old protagonist of Judy Blundell’s new novel Strings Attached has run away from Providence, R.I., to New York after a blowup that caused her boyfriend and her triplet brother to enlist to fight the Korean War.
Kit’s been on stage since she could toddle, as her father tried to turn “the Corrigan Three” into sponsorship gold. (It worked better when they were babies.) But the Great White Way has so far led to a series of disgusting rooming houses, friends’ couches, and a part in the chorus of the second-rate “That Girl from Scranton!”
Then her boyfriend’s father, Nate “The Nose” Benedict, shows up at a performance. He just happens to have an apartment sitting empty and would love Kit to be able to use it until Billy gets home to marry her. (Kit neglects to mention that she and Billy broke up before she ran away.)
Nate also has a line on a job as a showgirl at the hottest club in town. Oh, and could she call him if Billy contacts her? And would she mind storing the occasional suitcase in the apartment for a few hours until someone can pick it up? And could she let him know when certain “businessmen” might be dining at the Lido?
Despite her growing unease, Kit keeps saying yes. “Life gives you plenty of chances to be stupid, and I’d taken every single one of them.”
Kit might not be bookish or introspective – she leaves that to her sister, Muddie – but she’s got what they used to call moxie. (Characters keep comparing the redhead to Rita Hayworth, but she reminded me more of a young Lauren Bacall.)
For noir lovers who aren’t afraid of being seen dipping into the teen shelves (I lost any residual embarrassment years ago), Judy Blundell, winner of a 2008 National Book Award for her crossover teen hit “What I Saw and How I Lied,” offers stylish mysteries full of midcentury history. Better still, there’s not an apocalypse or angst-ridden paranormal being in sight.
“Strings Attached,” Blundell’s follow-up to “What I Saw and How I Lied,” might be even more intricate. Readers should pay attention to the dates on the chapter headings, because Blundell shuffles the past like a deck of cards.
The Kefauver mob hearings are going on in New York, while Kit’s upstairs neighbors have been swept up in the Red scare. “I have the class read ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ and the next thing I know I’m under investigation,” says Mr. Greeley, a high school teacher with a sweet teenage son named Hank.
As Kit tries to extricate herself from Nate’s favors, she learns the web she’s tangled in goes back to her childhood and even further. “It’s the Irish form of advancement – you don’t dare do better than those before you,” as her brother Jamie quips.
Blundell loves New York as much as her narrator, and she evokes the swish and shimmer of the 1950s cocktail scene, as well as bygone staples like Woolworth’s and the Automat.
Kit continues to delve into the long-ago mystery, despite danger and heartbreak, so that she can finally say, like another former dancing puppet, “There are no strings on me.”
Yvonne Zipp regularly reviews adult and children’s fiction for the Monitor.