SUMMARY: It’s 1922 and Cora Kaufman Carlisle has agreed to chaperone Louise Brooks (the infamous silent film star) on a trip to New York City where Louise will attend dance classes. Cora’s decision to chaperone may seem a little odd. She’s 36, lives in Kansas, she’s married to a gorgeous man, and has twin boys (i.e. she has everything a woman could wish for), but what few people know is that she’s not the farm girl everyone thinks she is. Cora’s story started in NYC many years ago.
She’s drawn to the city where she was born and where she has a vague memory of a woman holding her as a child. Years ago the nuns at the orphanage put her and others on a westbound ‘orphan train’ (which I had never heard of) to travel the length of the country. People would adopt these orphans for extra labor, but Cora got lucky with the Kaufmans. They wanted a child not a worker bee.
She married Alan Carlisle and essentially lived happily ever after in the eyes of all those looking in. However, all is not as it seems. Her marriage is more of an arrangement than a relationship. She feels like something in her life is missing, and Cora hopes the trip to New York will solve it. Little does she know that she’ll find out more about her past and about herself as a person—and as a woman in a drastically changing period of history—than she ever thought possible.
The Chaperone spans Cora’s entire life time, which is a good long time. Now I like conflict resolution, but when you start resolving EVERY conflict, the story loses its momentum and gets cumbersome. For example, the first 3/4 of the book is action, action, action and then the last bit is just a round up of what all the offspring are doing and historical events (in this case: the crash, women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement, etc.). Usually I just want to skip that bit, like in The Poisonwood Bible. Awesome book, but I didn’t even finish the last section! The Chaperone was beautifully written, but the end drags on a little too long.
That said, Cora undergoes an incredible transformation in the novel (skillfully handled on Moriarty’s part). She is basically a mouthpiece for conservative, male-dominated culture at the beginning of the book and by the end she’s opening up a shelter for unwed, pregnant women. She also sticks it to her uppity lady friends in one scene that puts a big smug grin on my face.
This book tackles a lot of poignant cultural and political issues of the early-mid 20th century including class-ism, racism, sexual double standards, and homosexuality. Funny we still have ALL of these issues. It’s also incredible that Moriarty makes someone as famous as Louise Brooks a main character in the novel, but not the protagonist or even the focal point. Props, Ms. Moriarty! In the end, I think this book is about how it’s never too late to change your life for the better. Cora felt stifled by her stagnant Kansas life and she let her curiosity take her to New York where she discovered herself (and love and liberation). Ok, ok, off to the fun stuff…
FASHION: Though you wish the hemline could be a little longer, this lovely silk dress is perfectly modern, yet still conservative. The color matches the blush in your Midwestern cheeks when you are caught staring at lovers kissing in Grand Central Station.
Slip on those red TOMS that feel like house-shoes. Some people may think they are rather ugly, but for you, comfort comes first! Not to mention, TOMS is a philanthropic company, and you are all about supporting those less fortunate than you whether they are shoe-less children or unwed mothers.
You are a (at a snails pace) becoming a liberated woman. You’ve thrown off your corset after years of body-binding—just like you’ve thrown off unhappiness in your marriage—and this sexy lavender bra has taken its place. It’s perfect for trysts with your secret luuvah.
Your giant bag is great for storing all those secrets you’ve piled up over the years, which will continue to get heavier the older you get. But at least its flowery exterior holds the illusion of propriety!
Pearl studs are your bff. They are simple, elegant, and reserved just like you. Your wedding ring is as beautiful as your husband and just as deceiving.
Keep your unruly curls in check with this messy-up-do, and keep your makeup natural. No rouge for you! Even though your long dormant sexuality is now thriving, you wouldn’t want just ANY man to think he could unwrap your candy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laura Moriarty earned a degree in social work before returning for her M.A. in Creative Writing at the University of Kansas. She was the recipient of the George Bennett Fellowship for Creative Writing at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and is now a professor of Creative Writing at the University of Kansas. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas, and is at work on her next novel. (See her website for more info).
Other blogs on the tour
Tuesday, May 1st: Sophisticated Dorkiness
Wednesday, May 2nd: bookchickdi
Thursday, May 3rd: From Left to Write
Friday, May 4th: Rayment’s Readings, Rants and Ramblings
Monday, May 7th: Frenzy of Noise
Thursday, May 10th: Bewitched Bookworms
Friday, May 11th: The Well-Read Wife
Monday, May 14th: Fire and Ice
Tuesday, May 15th: Book Journey
Wednesday, May 16th: Babbling About Books and More
Thursday, May 17th: Workaday Reads
Friday, May 18th: An Avid Reader’s Musings
Saturday, May 19th: Midnight Book Girl
Monday, May 21st: Never Too Fond of Books
Tuesday, May 22nd: The Compulsive Reader
Wednesday, May 23rd: Kritters Ramblings
Thursday, May 24th: Literate Housewife
Friday, May 25th: Paperspines
Monday, May 28th: Sassymonkey Reads
Tuesday, May 29th: Picky Girl
Wednesday, May 30th: Chaos is a Friend of Mine
Thursday, May 31st: An Unconventional Librarian
Friday, June 1st: The 3 R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness
Date TBD: Verb Vixen
FTC Disclosure: I received a complementary copy of this book for review.