Coming of age in the 1950's America, Ramona Smollens takes her cues about female sexuality from Hollywood movie stars. None is more voluptuous than Rita Haywowrth, the redhead who knows how to please a man and becomes a volcano of passion at her lover's touch, whose image inspired American flyers on their missions in World War ll and even graced the first atomic bomb tested at the Bikini Atoll. Ramona marries young to escape her mother's house shortly after the death of her father. She takes with her a dark secret, the sort of secret one simply did not talk about and that would stalk her as she matured into her role as wife and mother, remained a devoted daughter to her own aging mother and secretly harbored an obsession with the iconic Hayworth.
The fictional story Wagman tells of one woman's struggle with the conventions of her day is a bold literary achievement. Underpinning it all is the sad, unspoken truth of the real-life, flesh-and-blood Hayworth, who was sexually abused by her father for most of her growing up. "Men go to bed with Gilda," she used to say, "but wake up with me." During Hayworth's lifetime, the public had no understanding of the depth of meaning and pain behind Hayworth's seemingly self-effacing words. To Ramona, and millions of women like her, Haywoth's on-screen persona seemed the ideal, but was in fact "the lie."
With this novel, Wagman realizes Kafka's famous dictum that "a book must be the axe to break the frozen sea within us."