Candles in the Window, by Karl G. Larew, follows a group of college students as they make their way through a year of school at the University of Connecticut in the 1950s. The military draft was in full swing, young women were pursuing college degrees in more than negligible numbers, wives still had to have their husbands sign contracts for them, and homosexuality was considered a heinous crime.
Candles in the Window is brilliantly told in a non-traditional manner rather like the storyline of the Mad Men TV series. (Keep in mind that Mad Men script was first aired in 2007 while Candles in the Window was originally published in 1999.) There is no typical plot line of rising action, climax, and quick resolution. Rather, the story takes place over the course of one academic school year at the University of Connecticut (or UCONN as it is called throughout the novel).
This work chronicles what happens to a group of students who attend school there. The focus of the narrative is shifted regularly between eight to ten characters. The author makes the characters come alive with spot-on dialogue and pieces of reality from this era when society’s social norms are about to experience a great upheaval.
There is one character who serves as the axis for the story, and that is the alluring character of “Silky” (aka Susan Schreiber). However, no one really seems to know her or her whole story, in fact, no one even seems to be able to agree on what her first name is. Nevertheless, she’s beloved by everyone despite, or perhaps because of, the mystery surrounding her. Her story comes through in bits and pieces.
When tragedy strikes part way through the school year, the students must learn to cope and several of them find they need to reevaluate what they hold dear along with how they define relationships and love. The conversations between them often wax philosophical, as conversations between college students are wont to do.
Readers should be aware that the novel’s prologue sets the stage and framework for the story. We get the opportunity to see Silky through the different perspectives of the other characters as the story progresses. Be advised by this reviewer to read Candles in the Window’s epilogue for a more satisfying conclusion and for tying up most of the threads. Again, if you are a fan of Mad Men, (which I am) and how its characters grapple with rapidly changing realities and social norms, then Candles in the Window comes highly recommended.
The novel cleverly documents the contradictory and conservative morals of the 1950s. Readers will experience a world where female college students have curfews and male students don’t, unmarried individuals are expected to know nothing about sex, and religious tension is often swept under the rug. This novel intelligently and authentically explores the true nature of humans against the standard of this era’s “traditional family values” that come on the heels of the two great wars.
Candles in the Window by Karl G. Larew is a captivating and intriguing account of young people who find themselves increasingly at odds with the dictates and mores of “The Greatest Generation” as they contend with new advents just on the horizon: civil rights, war protests, equal rights, and the sexual revolution.