Passion’s Harvest by Florence Stonebraker. Cameo Books (1952), 129 pp.
Carlotta Merrill, still beautiful after several years in the sex trade, has returned to Bakersfield with wealthy boyfriend Brad Kelly. They’ve moved into a lovely house outside of town, where she’s enjoying her new prosperity and he’s dying of a war wound. Her angry and alcoholic older sister, Julie Lang, lives in a ratty apartment with Johnny, her loyal but unenterprising husband. As much as Carlotta loves Brad, she still has feelings for Johnny, who had a brief (and for him barely remembered) fling with her years before. These folks do not appear destined to get along.
This is one of those Stonebraker novels from the 1950s in which emotions rule all the major characters. Each of the seven deadly sins plays an important role. The author fleshes out personalities with internal monologues, so reprehensible behavior never lacks motivation. Dialogue often takes the form of argument, a strong point for Stonebraker here as in her other books. None of this makes the characters sympathetic, however -- or even especially interesting. This bleak slice of life in Bakersfield may show that Naturalism was still alive fifty years after Frank Norris, but it doesn’t provide much in the way of a fun read.