Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Chaperone: A Review

This is one of those books where I'm left scratching my head as to the title.  

Warning:  Possible Spoilers

Cora Carlisle is a 36-year-old housewife from Kansas when she is chosen to chaperone 15-year-old Louse Brooks to a summer dance seminar in New York City. Louse is tough and no-nonsense with an air of haughtiness and indignation.  Cora is on a search to find the story behind her birth parents.  The two clash.  Cora is old school in a sense, but is up on the suffrage movement.  Louise is as full-on Modern.

Cora gets some answers.  Louise gets a dancing gig.  There's a love interest.  And then that plot ends roughly 3/4 through the book.  The latter part of the novel is a sort of fast forward epilogue. The story shifts from being about Cora as a chaperone to Cora as a wife, mother, grandmother, lover, respected citizen, etc. The story finally ends in the '80s with Cora's death. Louise and Cora share one more scene towards the end. Hence, my confusion over the title.  I wanted more of their relationship.  If this were pure fiction, I'd want some bonding moment where the two totally get one another and become each other's confidantes and champions.  Being historical fiction, though, it may be a stretch to create such an event that never happened. I thoroughly enjoyed the story, but was confused with the structure.

What I did love was the picture of history that was painted.  I love the Twenties.  I enjoyed learning about women's issues and societal views on modern women during that time. I found it interesting to learn how orphans were treated and the adoption system during that time as well as. The novel also touches on Kansas' ultra-conservative views on Prohibition and homosexuality.  I learned about a lot of things.  This is why I dig historical fiction.

Some say Louise was a bitch, but I loved her.  She had spunk and knew what she wanted.  She was the Jazz Age.  I read that Liza Minnelli channeled Louise Brooks when creating her portrayal of Sally Bowles in Cabaret. I wanted to know more about her career and not just in fast forward.  That being said, I truly did enjoy Cora's story.  She was a likable character and a great heroine.

This was well-written, and I would suggest it to anyone interested in historical fiction and the '20s.

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