By Laura Moriarty
Riverhead June 2012
From the library
Cora Carlisle is a woman settled into her ways. She lives in Wichita with her successful lawyer husband Alan, and her two nearly grown sons. She is content to spend her days managing her household, working for various charities, and catching all of the local gossip. But one day, she hears that brash and beautiful Louise Brooks is going to an elite dance school in New York City. Louise’s mother is searching for a chaperone for her young daughter. Cora jumps at the chance, eager to travel back to New York City and find answers to questions she has buried for many years. The few weeks that Louise and Cora spend together in New York will change their lives in ways they could not have imagined.
This novel, by Laura Moriarty, is loosely based on truth. There was a beautiful young woman named Louise Brooks who was the biggest star of silent film in the 1920s and 1930s. But this story does not really belong to Louise – this story is Cora’s. She begins the book as a thirty-six year old woman who has become comfortable with routine, despite the routine turning out to be much different than she imagined as a girl. She is hiding a lot of secrets and Moriarty brilliantly teases them out one by one, giving the reader a much different picture of Cora on page 100 than they had on page 1.
This book covers many years and deals with a lot of different historical issues. We go from very minute everyday details like the type of undergarments Cora wears to hot button topics of the period such as the treatment of immigrants and homosexuals. We see the transition from silent films to talkies, the collapse of the stock market, and the emergence of the Dust Bowl in the Midwest. Cora is an able narrator through these turbulent years because she is open to change. When the times are changing, so is she as she finds the confidence to change her mind and speak out for the things she holds dear.
When writing a review, one often emphasizes the author’s ease in characterization or beautiful writing or setting the place. In this case, it’s impossible to pick just one. The characters seem like people you actually know and you want so badly for them to realize their potential for success and happiness. The large swath of history is covered so artfully that it doesn’t feel forced and the reader is able to take in the rich descriptions of New York City and the Midwest. Moriarty’s writing is perceptive and skilled and the story speeds along in her talented hands. You may need to remind yourself to put the book down and do things like eat or shower. It seems so easy to just read a few more pages or one more chapter.
I picked up this book because I had been reading rave reviews all over the internet. I’m happy to add mine to the bunch. Laura Moriarty has written a great piece of historical fiction with The Chaperone. Add it to your stack of summer reading. I promise you won’t be disappointed.