Preston collaged combinations of vintage photos, drawings, clippings, advertisements, and all manner of 1920s tidbits in The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt (2011), onto which she overlaid the text of her titular heroine’s peripatetic adventures-into-adulthood. In her sophomore scrapbook presentation, Preston displays the left-behind experiences of a 1940s war bride, and the result is even more spectacular. When Lila Jerome graduated magna cum laude from Sweet Briar with notable interest (and talent) in architecture, she disappointed her mother by coming home to Charlottesville, Virginia, without the expected “high-society girlfriends or fiancé.” Then the December 1941 declaration of war changed everything. Lila sells bonds and volunteers. By November 1943, she’s Mrs. Perry Weld, marrying an enlisted man she’s known for three weeks. Their almost two-year separation enables Lila’s independence, while encouraging intimacy with the husband she’s getting to know through long-distance correspondence; their challenges begin with reunion. Preston deftly explores changing gender and societal expectations, pre-diagnosis PTSD, the morality of the atomic bomb, even the racism of Japanese American imprisonment. The inclusion of three post-scrapbook entries at book’s end is especially resonating. Page-by-multilayered-page, Preston turns what could have been a pedestrian wartime romance into an exceptional reading experience.
In her second fictional scrapbook, Preston (The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, 2011, etc.) uses real “scraps” she’s collected to magnify the effect of WWII on a newly married couple.
The war bride of the title begins her scrapbook in the fall of 1943 when her husband leaves for active duty 20 days after their first meeting. In her first section, “Life Before Perry,” bride Lila uses magazine art, advertisements, a business card, and whatever else can be pasted down to illustrate her childhood as the bright, chubby, “bossy” daughter of middle-class parents in prewar Charlottesville, Virginia. Her upwardly striving mother sends her to posh Sweet Briar, a Southern women’s college near Lynchburg, to make “the right connections”; in reaction, Lila pastes a photo of an unhappy grad with the found caption “I Flunked in Romance.” Although a senior seminar sparks an interest in architecture, she returns home to work in her father’s car insurance business. With headlines from LIFE and Charlottesville’s Daily Progress announcing the war, Lila takes a job at the university’s Bond Drive office, begins sharing a co-worker’s apartment, and loses weight. Ads for shorter skirts and rye crisps display 1940s style in the shadow of war maps. Perry answers Lila’s ad for a new roommate, and the “Our Romance” section begins. Despite his UVA architecture degree and acceptance to the graduate program at Harvard Design School, Bostonian Perry has enlisted in the Army. Movie tickets, recipes, and architectural sketches trace the couple’s platonic first two weeks. Then come the kiss, proposal, and elopement, highlighted by a copy of Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice column against furlough marriage. A short, passionate honeymoon complete with naked sketches follows. Then Perry’s off to Europe. “Life Without Perry” follows the couple’s predictable correspondence—each facing challenges and evolving in ways that will prove consequential—within the context of war memorabilia that WWII enthusiasts will gobble up. Perry’s “Homecoming” is understandably bittersweet.
“The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is a retro delight. Meticulously assembled and designed by the author from her own huge collection of memorabilia, it turns scrapbooking into a literary art form.”
“Literal, literary, and lovely… Preston’s book is a visual journey unlike any other novel out there right now…. It’s this attention to detail that gives the book an almost tactile quality.”
“[A] whimsical mash-up of historical fiction and scrapbooking.”
“Ingenious… nifty and fun.”
“Charming and transporting.”
“A sweetly beguiling novel.”
“[It’s] impossible to crack open the book without wanting to devour it…. A tale of the Roaring Twenties illustrated in the dazzling language of trinkets and baubles… The kind of visual candy that coffee tables were designed to showcase.”
“[The] vintage graphics and sweet, sincere storytelling make it a pure pleasure.”
“Every coat button, baseball card, or gramophone record seems to conduct electricity…. As a reader, you are enchanted with Frankie Pratt’s life… because her life — so carefully constructed and so elegantly detailed — is not so different from our own.”