The Post­script series is a spe­cial peek behind the scenes” of a book. It’s a juicy lit­tle extra some­thing to add to a book clubs dis­cus­sion and a read­er’s under­stand­ing of how the book came togeth­er. 

This week, Car­o­line Leav­itt, the author of Is This Tomor­row (Algo­nquin, 2013) is kick­ing off the series. To host” Car­o­line at your next book club meet­ing, request her through JBC Live Chat

When I was research­ing my 1950s nov­el Is This Tomor­row (Algo­nquin Books), I was deter­mined to get the fla­vor of the times right. I inter­viewed peo­ple, and read books. But noth­ing sur­prised, delight­ed or helped me as much as vin­tage mem­o­ra­bil­ia. 

Is This Tomor­row, set in the white-pick­et par­adise of sub­ur­bia, reveals the tar­nish of the times. Peo­ple were ter­ri­fied about Com­mu­nist infil­tra­tion, and they mis­trust­ed any­one who seemed dif­fer­ent. And just to make sure you knew who your ene­mies real­ly were, the fifties served up instruc­tive brochures on how to spot them. Even the esteemed Look Mag­a­zine point­ed a jour­nal­is­tic fin­ger at the most like­ly sus­pects: your neigh­bors. Did the woman next door read a lot of books? Well, then, she was a Com­mu­nist. Did the guy across the street douse his sal­ad with Russ­ian dress­ing? Com­mu­nist. Did he tell jokes you didn’t under­stand? He was speak­ing in code. 

But as ter­ri­fied as peo­ple were of the Red Men­ace, there was also a spir­it of Amer­i­can can do.” One brochure, How To Sur­vive a Nuclear Attack advised house­wives to keep a tidy home because clut­ter attract­ed radi­a­tion. (Who knew?) If you were unlucky enough to be caught out­side in an attack, safe­ty was assured as long as you used your wel­come mat to wipe the radioac­tiv­i­ty from your shoes. 

The 50s were all about the house­wife, and that meant mak­ing mem­o­rable meals. My main char­ac­ter, Ava Lark, a divorced Jew­ish moth­er, cross­es a line when she forges a pie-bak­ing career for her­self, some­thing women just didn’t do back then. While research­ing the food she’d be famil­iar with, I dis­cov­ered cook­books with names like Let’s Jump it Up With Jell‑o and Mak­ing Meals Men Love. The food advice was so stun­ning­ly wrong! You had to boil veg­eta­bles for 45 min­utes, and jolt your kids with sug­ar because it would give them ener­gy. 1950s house­wives need­ed to make meals that were show­stop­pers, because a. what else were they doing all day? and b. they knew the way to keep­ing their husband’s focus on them, rather than on a perky office sec­re­tary, was through his stom­ach. My favorite recipe was some­thing called a meat­loaf train from an old Lea and Per­rins cook­book. You shaped the meat into a train, adding lit­tle meat­loaf caboos­es attached with a bit of string. You cut up car­rots for wheels, skin­ny strips of cel­ery to make win­dows, but the pièce de résis­tance were the hard peas that made up the faces and bod­ies of the passengers! 

All the 50s mem­o­ra­bil­ia I devoured made me aware of how dif­fer­ent the times were, but also, how uncom­fort­ably sim­i­lar. Sub­sti­tute the word Mus­lim” or ter­ror­ist” for Com­mu­nist and you have an idea of the anx­i­ety lev­el. Think about a 1950s video where high school girls argued that study­ing home eco­nom­ics was more impor­tant than learn­ing sci­ence and then pon­der today’s lit­er­ary term women’s fic­tion,” which inti­mates that only women read it, which sad­ly seems to lessen its impact. It all makes me won­der. What will 2050 writ­ers think about 2013, when they comb through our pop­u­lar culture? 

Car­o­line Leav­itt is the New York Times best­selling author of Pic­tures of You and Is This Tomor­row. Learn more about Car­o­line at www​.car​o​line​leav​itt​.com

Car­o­line Leav­itt is the New York Times best­selling author of 13 nov­els, includ­ing Pic­tures of You, Cru­el Beau­ti­ful World, Is This Tomor­row, and the upcom­ing Days of Won­der (April 23, 2024). A New York Foun­da­tion of the Arts Fel­low in Fic­tion, and a recent recip­i­ent of A Midat­lantic Arts/​New Jer­sey Foun­da­tion of the Arts grant for part of Days of Won­der, she is the cofounder of A Mighty Blaze, and a colum­nist at Psy­chol­o­gy Today. Her work has appeared in New York Mag­a­zine, The New York Times, Salon, The Mil­lions, and more. Vis­it her at www​.car​o​line​leav​itt​.com.