“All the Beautiful Girls” (Ballantine), by Elizabeth J. Church
After Lily’s glamorous and free-spirited parents and sister are killed in a car crash, the 8-year-old moves in with her aunt and uncle and leaves behind her entire universe of Salina, Kansas. And the conservative Midwest of the 1960s is not hospitable to a smart, curious, precocious young girl who dreams only of becoming a dancer. But Lily endures.
As soon as she graduates from high school and turns 18, she changes her name to Ruby Wilde (“She thought it worked ... the elegance lent by that extra e, like shoppe.”) and heads to Las Vegas. Within months, her beauty and voluptuous body, along with her dancing skills, grant access to stages at clubs like the Tropicana and Stardust. She learns her trade and excels, amassing jewelry, furs and a small fortune.
“All the Beautiful Girls” feels comfortably familiar. It’s not a new story. It’s one that’s been told and retold dozens of times, but it’s Elizabeth J. Church’s gorgeous prose that elevates this far above the boundaries of the mundane.
Church’s appreciation of language is apparent as she masterfully creates pictures with words, like when the young girl reflects on her loss: “Sorrow was not so easily fooled; it stuck to the soles of Lily’s feet and dogged her every step.” Or when the older Ruby imagines a traditional, domestic future: She “was far too tainted ever to kiss the pristine garments of wholesomeness.”
Despite its predictability, Church keeps readers engaged in and flying through the pages. She’s not interested in imparting any new wisdom here or providing untilled ground to tread. Instead, “All the Beautiful Girls” provides a delightful antidote to cool and damp rainy days.