The Night She Won Miss America

Michael Callahan (Searching for Grace Kelly) possesses a deft and winning skill at re-creating the dreamy romanticism and archaic sexual politics of America in 1949. He also crafts compelling and empathetic characters who capture the imagination and concern of readers. Callahan gives a contemporary edge to a nostalgic era, much like the way Todd Haynes's films Carol and Far from Heaven saluted and updated Douglas Sirk's great 1950s melodramas. Callahan essentially takes those wonderful Rona Jaffe page-turners about 1950s "working girls" and retrofits them with modern insights and sensibilities, without winking asides but rather loving attention to period detail.

To please her mother, 19-year-old Betty Jane Welch enters the Miss Delaware contest and wins. This propels her to Atlantic City and the 1950 Miss America pageant, where she meets and immediately falls in love with her pageant-assigned escort, Griffin McAllister. Betty is slow to realize that her dream man is more of a nightmare--psychotic with violent voices in his head. After she wins the pageant, Betty starts feeling hemmed in by its restrictive rules and, fearing she will lose the first man she's loved, she agrees to sneak away with him to New York City. When the newly crowned Miss America is reported missing and perhaps kidnapped, the police and press join the chase, and soon Griffin's paranoid delusions have flesh-and-blood pursuers--which leads to murder.

Callahan's fast-paced psychological thriller is exciting and entertaining. And the vintage Miss America pageant setting is as fascinating as the characters. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

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