Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Book Look: The Chaperone

Laura Moriarty takes a walk through history in her new novel, "The Chaperone." She still evokes the pleasures of Wichita, Kansas, as in her previous novels, highlighting the neighborhoods, the friendliness, the small-town ability to stop and chat. She also jumps into the past to show how people learn and change through exposure to big ideas. The main character, Cora, is sent from a New York orphanage on the orphan train to the Midwest. Will Cora be chosen by good people or people who want a child-slave for their farm? Problem #1. Cora meets and marries a handsome attorney. She lives a life of wanting for nothing, except deep affection. She doesn't quite know how to put this longing into words. Problem #2 When the town's "wild girl," Louise Brooks (a historical figure, well-researched), needs a chaperone to New York City, Cora applies for the position and is readily accepted. Louise has a reputation in little ol' Wichita. What impact can a woman like Cora have on this beautiful, willful girl. Louise is 15, a dazzling beauty, who believes in modern dance and integration. Louise has notions like talking to men in public places with no chaperone. And why shouldn't people drink? What is Prohibition except a danger to all the citizens as law enforcement goes wild? BIG problem #3 Cora has her hands full. She wants to do a good job with Louise. She also wants to track down information on the parents who gave her up for adoption. She feels her husband can manage without her, her sons are on their way to college, and this trip could be life-changing for her. The period of New York in the early twentieth century, its glittering buildings, its crowded, immigrant-filled streets, the energy, the recklessness of youth. . .it's all here in this delicious novel. Cora comes back to Wichita a changed woman. No spoilers, so how she changes and why, that's what Moriarty brings into full flower by novel's end. This is a novel that is gripping and poignant and unusual as Cora begins to think what it means to not be in Kansas anymore.

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