Seemingly risqué 'Nothing But a Smile' actually is sweet love story

"Nothing But a Smile" (Pantheon Books, 336 pages, $24.95), by Steve Amick.

Steve Amick pulls off quite the trick in his latest novel.

He populates "Nothing But a Smile" with mostly naked women romping across the pages in a number of risque poses and barely there costumes. Yet his is a tale that feels innocent and pure, a hard maneuver to achieve in these wicked times. Maybe that's because Amick sets this pitch-perfect novel in the 1940s near the end of World War II, an era that is viewed through a gauze-covered lens these days, no matter the reality.

"Nothing But a Smile" begins with the honorable but embarrassing discharge of Wink Dutton, an illustrator for Yank Magazine. He awakes with a hangover one morning and loses the use of his drawing hand, a setback that leaves him drifting back into civilian life without a compass.

He heads to Chicago to find a job and promises to visit the wife of a pal he left behind in the South Pacific. When he meets up with Sal Chesterton, they hit it off and she invites him to rent a small apartment above the family camera store. Truth is, she could use both the rent money and the company. She's been running the store alone since her husband shipped out and the bills are mounting as business dwindles in a time of rations and luxury reductions. She's working on an idea to help make ends meet, and it's not long until Wink stumbles across photos of a buxom, naked woman who looks very familiar.

He soon finds himself an apprentice cameraman turning out artistic pinups of his landlord and a leggy brunette with a Betty Page hairdo and a hankering for fun.

Amick alternates narration between Wink and Sal and it's clear from almost the moment they meet that they're destined to be together.

This is the kind of love story we don't often see any more. Despite the mildly titillating content, it's simple and sweet and a product of a bygone era that soon will pass from living memory. It feels as if Amick is writing the story of his grandparents.

Much of what we read today mirrors our culture, with authors seeming to one up each other with new ways to kill, maim and destroy the psyche of their characters. Amick gives us something increasingly rare — a love story with heart.

Share This Story