(Copyright Susan Hunt)
A novel of the home front, World War II
Illustrations copyright L.J. Darter III
INTRODUCTION, by Gaillard T. Hunt
Writers have struggled throughout the modern era to show what's inside children's heads. In Halcyon Days, Susan Hunt has succeeded remarkably.
The children are Emma, four years old, bright and sensitive, and Tommy, ten, also bright, and sensitive too, but in his own geekish way. They live in Bethesda, Maryland, and their father is away in World War II. Halcyon Days takes us inside other, older heads as well: that of the children's mother, Elizabeth, who is angry because her husband went to war; of various friends and neighbors; of the grandmother, who must make the trip from Boston to Washington in a wartime train overflowing with soldiers; and many more. At one point a dog named Susie contributes a few perceptions.
The novel is not autobiography. Susan's father, Lewis J. Darter, Jr., was drafted into World War II, but he was fortunate enough never to ship overseas. (He worked in records management, leading to a post-War civilian job as Archivist of the Navy.) Susan was not old enough to remember the War at all. The novel's verisimiltude is due to hours in the Library of Congress with Time and Life and the newspapers of the era, and a few memories I was able to contribute -- flattening tin cans for the Boy Scouts' scrap drives, for instance.
Halcyon Days is a wartime novel, and none of the characters, especially not the children, are unaffected by the destruction raging offstage in Europe and the Pacific. But the irony of the title is essential. Bethesda was not Warsaw or even London. These are happy children, and their days are halcyon days.
Susan finished Halcyon Days on an IBM electric a year or two after she and I were married in 1975. An agent in New York, Ann ffolliott, was enthusiastic, but circulated the manuscript to no avail. As soon as the Internet began to take shape I thought of putting Halcyon Days out for the world to see electronically, and I have finally done so. I started out scanning the typescript into Word and thence into HTML, but character recognition software insisted on interpreting each ragged-right, double-spaced line as a new paragraph. (Can anyone tell me any way to stop this?) So I switched to pdf imaging. This produces a file about ten times larger than HTML, and ten times slower to download, but it spared me the tedium of correcting the scanned copy to remove all those spurious paragraph breaks. I apologize that you must deal with both formats, HTML for the openning chapters, pdf later. But you will find your efforts well repaid.
Very well repaid. There are passages in Halcyon Days that take my breath away with the shock of recognition -- recognition not just of the ten-year-old I may once have been, or of the four-year-old I was in 1943, but of all the characters, virtuous and not so virtuous, sensitive and not so sensitive, whose thoughts Susan has so accurately transcribed. Download and enjoy.
Silver Spring, Maryland
Chapter I A perfect day, summer in Bethesda.
Chapter II Elizabeth mourns her husband.
Chapter III "There was the sound of being sick again. It was Emma's mother being sick. Fear took hold of Emma. Mothers did not get sick."
Chapter IV Tommy explains the War to Emma.
Chapter V "The classroom began to get noisy but Tommy was no longer in it. 'Bomb just there,' he was saying to General Marshall . . . "
Chapter VI "This is my family, thought Tommy. They are basically boring but it's not their fault."
Chapter VII Tommy thinks about the coming baby, Bill thinks about Elizabeth.
Chapter VIII Lucy waits for Bill, winter passes, Bill decides to make his declaration.
Chapter IX "He said she'd led him on."
Chapters X & XI "He supposed that his father would soon be dead. . . . And now his mother was dying too. He would be an orphan, he and Emma both."
Chapter XII "She had thought is was just a bad dream, her mother lying there in the hallway . . . ".
Chapter XIII Elizabeth recovering.
Chapter XIV "So Tommy said, 'Why did my father go to war?'"
Chapter XV "The stations ticked by: Kingston, Westerly, New London, Old Saybrook. They stopped for awhile in New Haven."
Chapter XVI "But you couldn't get off the train, you had to stay on till the stop . . ."
Chapter XVII "Everything was alright again now that Grandmother was here."
Chapter XVIII Lucy's regrets.
Chapter XIX Spring.
Chapters XX & XXI The soldier returns.
Chapter XXII "I am weary of your quarrels, Weary of your wars and bloodshed, weary of your prayers for vengeance . . ."