Cloak of Laughter by May Mellinger. G. P. Putnam’s Sons (1950), 243 pp.
It’s 1934 and the Great Depression hangs over San Francisco more persistently than the fog. Terry Lancaster, back from a stint as a seaman, is looking for a job. And he’s also seeking his father, who ruined his mother’s life by not marrying her and whose name doesn’t Terry doesn’t even know. Once he finds the man, he intends to kill him. His roommate, Lance Cameron, has only a job to worry about -- and women, whom he runs through with regularity. When pretty and alluringly demure Diana Devlon rents a room at the boarding house, both men take notice.
Soon Diana’s more worldly and more beautiful sister, Tessie, shows up, after which the story turns itself into a circle of unrequited romance. Tessie falls for Terry, who pines for Diana, who loves Lance, who has a fiancée back home and carries on with Diana but can’t shake his attraction to Tessie. All of this causes tension, which the characters cover with incessant banter. The dialogue may not be as amusing as the author hopes nor as successful in hiding the vacuousness of her characters as she intends. But it makes the book an easy read. The improbable coincidence later in the story, however, could be difficult for readers to swallow. Despite its shortcomings, the novel might find an audience among teenage girls tired of the uplift that infuses current young adult fiction.