As this past semester ended, all I could think about is what I’d rather be reading. Playgirls in Love by May Christie was at the top of that list. It’s got everything one could ever want in a 1932 romance: an amusing publisher’s summary, a romantic hero named Barry Deane, and dust jacket art by Skrenda.
Part of my “collecting scope” is dust jackets by Skrenda. I don’t really know much about this Skrenda character besides he produced my favorite art deco covers in the era I collect. Most of the Skrenda dust jackets I find are from around 1925-1935, although I’ve found some earlier or later than that, but not by much. I love this cover so much… save for the lime green color scheme. It’s tough to relate to a heroine wearing that shade.
Anyway, so the front flap summary starts out, “The flapper is gone! Here are the new modern girls playing the game of love. Meet the 1932 girl – wiser, womanly, far more alluring than the boyish flapper of yesterday.” How excellent is that?
This story starts off with what I can only describe to be some form of drug trip. Which drug I do not know, but it involves strong visual hallucinations. There are small lights twinkling on our protagonist Judith Brian’s keyboard until they appear to be small stars dancing. If that weren’t disconcerting enough, she then sees the face of her boss in the sheet set on her typewriter. Oh dear, Judith. Didn’t they tell you at that “business class” you took “upstate” that tripping out at work isn’t considered professional?
Shortly after that scene, Judith faints, thus establishing her as a strong character. Her boss, Barry Deane, takes a liking to the unconscious woman in his office at the Knickerbocker Bank. Judith Brian goes home to a boarding house where her friend Zella promptly gets them both thrown out from because the food sucks. With the establishment of the Knickerbocker Bank, leaving the boarding house for somewhere more fashionable, Zella managing a new clothing store, and the general sense of young, urban adventure, this novel sets itself up for greatness.
The one thing wanting from Playgirls in Love is much of an actual plot. The publisher cleverly tries to conceal this fact by making the font somewhat large and the margins wide. Barry Deane goes back and forth between Judith Brian and some rich girl named Loranda Tewson. There is not much reason for Barry’s wavering besides a few ill-conceived “plot” devices and the fact that Loranda’s best friend’s father owns the Knickerbocker Bank. As a result of Barry’s indecisiveness, Judith goes on a few dates with the sleaziest character in the book and no one besides Judith is shocked when he suggests an inappropriate arrangement.
The “staunch and loyal code” discussed on the front cover comes into play when the thirty-eight year old of the novel steals a group of letters proving that Loranda isn’t “playing square” with Barry. When Loranda finds out Judith took these letters from the unstable character who had previously stashed them, she hires a private detective to spy on Judith. There is a bunch of moralizing about happiness and the right thing to do, and Barry Deane comes back to Judith anyway. Yawn.
But what is a romance novel without gratuitous violence? No characters are violently murdered in Playgirls in Love but the thirty-eight year old character who everyone deems pathetic suffers a nervous mental breakdown and slices the face of Loranda Tewson with a bread knife. Loranda heads off to Europe to test out her new pick-up lines of “Do you know how I got these scars?” and “Why so serious?”
Oh, and Barry Deane marries Judith, if ever anyone had any doubt of that outcome in this real nail-biter of a novel. More fascinating is the best line of this book, “We’re going to make whoopee – and how!”
Copies of May Christie’s works are available for purchase here.