Tag Archives: prohibition

Review: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

3rd July 2013

pg1*I received this book from the publisher, Riverhead Books, in exchange for an honest review.

In the opening pages of The Other Typist, beginning with the first line, “They said the typewriter would unsex us,” Suzanne Rindell immediately displays her writing chops, linking the typewriter, the women who use them, and the distance between the woman and the men for whom she types in a fitting criticism of the workplace in the 1920s.

Rose Baker is a typist for the police department, transcribing the confessions of those who walk through the precinct. She marvels at being thought too weak to handle the graphic talk, aptly pointing out that as a typist, she must hear the confession twice – once as it is dictated and again, as she types it.  Rose presents herself as clever, punctilious, and slightly prudish, a fact excused by her past – an orphan, she was raised by nuns.

But the other typist – Odalie – switches everything up. As Rose says, when Odalie enters the precinct, “I knew: It was like the eye of a hurricane. She was the dark epicenter of something we didn’t quite understand yet, the place where hot and cold mixed dangerously, and around her everything would change.”

Drawn in immediately by the confessional nature of Rose’s tale, the reader has no choice but to wonder at the tone Rose takes when she talks about the vivacious Odalie. At first wary of Odalie, Rose soon becomes enamored of someone so different from herself, calculatingly vying for her friendship. When Odalie does turn her light on Rose, it’s fast and bright, and Rose can’t turn away, bound by the dangerous mix of glamour and daring that Odalie exudes.

Along the way there are signs of distress, but Rose is in too deep, and the rumors of an inappropriate relationship with a nun hint at the possibility that Rose feels romantically toward Odalie, adding to her dependency. At the same time, The Other Typist briefly comments on the changing social sphere as well, as Rose says,

In a flash it came to me, and I suddenly understood something about my own generation….Their youth was what kept them moving, a sort of brutal vitality lingering in their muscles and bones that was all too often mistaken for athleticism and grace. But their innocence was something they were obligated to go on faking in order to maintain the illusion something fresh and spontaneous and exciting was just around the next corner.

But for Rose, the reality is that something spontaneous and exciting is around the corner; it just may not be what she thinks.

The Other Typist, though not as tight as perhaps the deft fiction of Sarah Waters, is an enthralling read I’d  compare to Affinity. It’s well worth the read as well as the edginess most readers will feel as Rindell unwinds this novel of love, obsession, and corruption.

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Review: Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara

7th May 2013

pg1*This book was sent to me by the publisher, Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, in exchange for an honest review.

In one of the greatest scenes I’ve read in recent memory, Julian English fantasizes about throwing his drink in the face of Harry Reilly. What has Harry done? Nothing, really. But at this particular dance, Harry Reilly tells story after story, and it’s not just that – Harry has a specific method to his storytelling, mannerisms of which Julian tires. But he dissuades himself, reminding himself that Harry has loaned him quite a bit of money to pull Julian out of a pinch at the Cadillac dealership. Plus, Julian’s afraid people might think it’s because Harry dotes on Julian’s wife, Caroline.

The narrative passes, and then one partygoer tells another that Julian did indeed toss his drink into Harry Reilly’s face, and as the inside of the book says, “in one rash moment born inside a highball glass, Julian breaks with polite society and begins a rapid descent toward self-destruction.”

Just a small indiscretion in the scheme of things, really, but in 1930s suburban Pennsylvania, Julian’s action threatens to topple the carefully placed house of cards that the city of Gibbsville and its elite have created. In a society where single men and women are paired off based on their looks and prospects, and the society page lists who attended whose party, Julian has willfully placed himself outside the rules, and O’Hara depicts Julian’s existential crisis in brilliant moments of stream of consciousness and internal monologue. As Julian remarks at one point, there are other, worse indiscretions – affairs conducted under the nose of one’s wife; domestic abuse; suicide – but those are one offs. Julian English’s breach is not just societal; it’s seen as evidence of English’s hatred of Catholics (Reilly is a Catholic), as evidence of his snobbishness, as his place is higher than that of Reilly’s.

John O’Hara is near brutal in his descriptions of the various characters in Appointment in Samarra – deftly describing a well-respected doctor and a small-time whiskey runner in equally harsh light. Even Julian’s wife, the lovely and admired Caroline, doesn’t escape his ire. Though she loves her husband, she’s much too concerned with the demise of the couple’s social status to concern herself with her husband’s rapid descent. Yet even in O’Hara’s bald depictions of these people, there is sympathy, to the end. For, if any people were more a product of the times, it’s the Gibbsville set. Bound by their conventions but expected to be young and free and daring, the men and women in Appointment in Samarra are, much like the title of the book, destined to burn quick and bright before meeting their fates.

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The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

29th May 2012

*This book was sent to me by the publisher Riverhead Books (Penguin) for a TLC Book Tour in exchange for an honest review.

It’s the roaring 20s, and amid the controversy of speakeasies, flapper skirts, rising hemlines, and short hairstyles are two women stuck in Wichita, Kansas, each aching for change in different ways. Louise Brooks is 15, intelligent, cynical, and a fantastic dancer ready to start her career by attending the Denishawn School of Dancing, where Martha Graham also originated. Cora Carlisle, on the other hand, is 36, lonely, and curious about her roots. Left in a Home for Friendless Girls in New York at age 3, Cora was later sent out on a train with other girls to be adopted – some as members of the family and others as indentured servants. Though Cora was lucky and loved by the Kaufmann family, she wants to revisit the orphanage to find out anything she can about the mother who left her there.

Offering herself as chaperone to Louise for a month in the summer seems simple enough, but Louise is determined to make it as difficult as possible. She mocks Cora’s lifestyle and beliefs, her strict societal code, the corset she wears faithfully. Cora believes the girl needs a mother, one who will care for her and guide her as Louise’s own mother does not, but slowly she comes to see Louise as wise beyond her years, causing Cora to question her beliefs and open herself up to the possibility of change.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty is both a coming-of-age story and a coming-into-her-own story, and the novel has so much heart. Though Louise is the obvious protagonist, she is not who Moriarty focuses the story on. Instead, she tells the story of Cora. Cora, who loves her adoptive family but experiences grief at a young age. Cora, who loves her husband but has no intimacy with him. Cora, whose children are going to college, leaving her alone in the house and lonely.

Cora is a product of her generation. She supports Prohibition and is appalled at the changing trends of the 20s. Choosing to leave her husband for a month to chaperone Louise in New York is a monumental decision, and one that, if her husband didn’t have a secret that could destroy him, she may not have been allowed to make. And Louise doesn’t make it easy; she’s condescending and rude to Cora, holding Cora up as the worst of society. But Cora does the same to Louise, even though she sees moments where Louise is kind, but slowly she realizes the ludicrousness of some of the social mores of her times and begins to change, living a lifestyle Louise would probably approve, and as she notes beautifully about her changing perspective, “She was grateful life could be long.”

That summer is just one part of the book, but its effects follow Cora back to Kansas, and though the latter half of this book witnesses the changes wrought in Cora, at times it felt like a recitation of Cora’s philanthropic goals. However, this isn’t an action novel. It’s intended to be an examination of a life, of Cora as wholly new woman, a woman changed who appreciates her husband Alan in new ways, who is on the board of a home for unwed mothers, and who is unafraid to live a life she loves, even if it is in secret.

As Cora says near the end of the novel:

She was every Cora she’d ever been: Cora X, Cora Kaufmann, Cora Carlisle. She was an orphan on a roof, a lucky girl on a train, a dearly loved daughter by chance. She was a blushing bride of seventeen, a sad and stoic wife, a loving mother, an embittered chaperone, and a daughter pushed away. She was a lover and a lewd cohabitator … a champion of the fallen, and a late-in-coming fighter for reason over fear….she knew who she was.

The Chaperone is a novel of identity and its fluidity, but it’s also a novel of decency and basic human understanding whose power is in highlighting the beauty of something as simple as acceptance and love.

Preorder The Chaperone (out June 5, 2012) by Laura Moriarty from Indiebound or for your Nook.

Check out other reviews at the TLC website.