The Chaperone – Laura Moriarty

Book Description (Amazon):

The New York Times bestseller and the USAToday #1 Hot Fiction Pick for the summer, The Chaperone is a captivating novel about the woman who chaperoned an irreverent Louise Brooks to New York City in 1922 and the summer that would change them both.
 13056159
Only a few years before becoming a famous silent-film star and an icon of her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita, Kansas, to study with the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing in New York. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone, who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle, a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip, has no idea what she’s in for. Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob with blunt bangs, is known for her arrogance and her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will transform their lives forever.
 
For Cora, the city holds the promise of discovery that might answer the question at the core of her being, and even as she does her best to watch over Louise in this strange and bustling place she embarks on a mission of her own. And while what she finds isn’t what she anticipated, she is liberated in a way she could not have imagined. Over the course of Cora’s relationship with Louise, her eyes are opened to the promise of the twentieth century and a new understanding of the possibilities for being fully alive.
 
Drawing on the rich history of the 1920s,’30s, and beyond—from the orphan trains to Prohibition, flappers,  and the onset of the Great Depression to the burgeoning movement for equal rights and new opportunities for women—Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone illustrates how rapidly everything, from fashion and hemlines to values and attitudes, was changing at this time and what a vast difference it all made for Louise Brooks, Cora Carlisle, and others like them.
My Review:
The executive summary: I’m appreciative to live in the time I do.
Louise Brooks was a real person, albeit someone I’m fully unfamiliar with, and she was chaperoned by someone to New York. The chaperone Cora and her story were the “fiction” part of this historical fiction and were completely invented by Moriarty. I think she did a good job overall of tying the real with the created.
I sympathized with Cora up until she decided to leave for New York. She had a terrible childhood and turned out well despite it. She seemed very smart, courageous, and focused, all traits I like to see. Then when she assumed her chaperone role, she became exactly the “flat tire” that Louise called her. I understood the juxtaposition that Moriarty was trying to achieve with that, but I didn’t understand why it had to continue for so long. Small complaint. But I was appreciative when she finally had an awakening and stopped being such a stick in the mud.
*spoiler alert*
I saw the two “twists” coming about a mile ahead. I suspected Alan of being gay when we first met him in the book. It seemed too unusual– this handsome older unmarried man (especially in that era). Then when he didn’t want to “visit” Cora any more, I was even more confirmed. So that came as no surprise. The way it was announced in the book was a little more graphic than I was expecting for this story but no big deal. I also completely saw the relationship with Cora and Joseph coming. And I saw him getting in trouble with the nuns over it too. I did not expect him to move to Wichita and continue his life there. That was a good part to the twist.
I fully expected Cora to be Italian with the description of the dark hair and the foreign language (the foreign language lady in the shawl was a bit of a red herring) so it was kind of a surprise to me the resolution there. I appreciated the situation with the mother. With the exception of breaking into the office of the children’s home, the entire situation seemed pretty realistic–especially the mother’s reaction and response.
It’s saddening to see how difficult the situations were for basically every character in the book just because of “what people thought”. Alan and Raymond were never allowed to be open with their relationship (Raymond standing alone at Alan’s funeral really made me sad.) Cora had to overcome being from suspicious beginnings, and to never speak of it. And thenshe had to live a farce, pretending to be the attentive wife. Cora’s mother had to be strong and make some tough decisions to continue her life without shaming her family and impoverishing herself (and likely her child). Joseph had to overcome being German, although at the same time, that may have helped him avoid dying like his wife (Side note, there was a kid who rode my bus as a child with the last name Schmidt. He would turn his eyelids inside out. It was nasty.). And Louise probably had to overcome the most. But even still, at the end, it was difficult to feel truly sorry for her. Her lack of caring evoked a lack of caring in me.
I found it a bit surprising that the story continued on for so many years after the main plotline. I’m not sure I had an opinion good or bad on that decision. In many ways I appreciated it, but I also wasn’t sure it was necessary.
I found the bit about the Lysol overly disturbing. The thought of that gives me the creeps.
I loved this quote and think it’s very poignant: “That’s what spending time with the young can do–it’s the big payoff for all the pain. The young can exasperate, or course, and frighten, and condescend, and insult, and cut you with their still unrounded edges. But they can also drag you, as you protest and scold and try to pull away, right up to the window of the future, and even push you through.” I definitely see that situation happening in so many variations in life. Maybe falling into that was what helped Cora live such a long life! 😉
Verdict:
4 stars. This book is worth reading. I might wait until it comes out in paperback (side note, this was my 2nd book I’ve read on my iPad. I’m buying in a little more to this whole “ereader” craze).
I thought in general this was a unique portrayal of the 20’s. So much of the 20’s that I read and see is speakeasies and flappers and illegal booze–partying and whimsical fun. This was a more grounded portrayal of the struggle of the changing of the times, especially in an area that isn’t a big metropolis. It makes me want to research a bit more about Louise Brooks, silent movies, The Age of Innocence, and Shuffle Along.
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Filed under 4 stars, Book Club, Book Review

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