Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Chaperone

You don’t have to agree with the life choices of the characters in a book to appreciate it as a book.

That is the feeling I had as I finished reading The Chaperone.  
The Chaperone is an historical fiction starting in the 1920s and following the characters on for decades after.  The premise centers around Louise Brooks, silent screen starlet, who sets out for New York when she is 15 to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional dancer and stage actress.  Her parents send along Cora Carlisle, a housewife from their native town of Wichita, KS, to keep an eye on Louise and make things more “proper.”  Cora has her own hidden reasons for heading to New York with Louise, and the weeks the two spend together change the course of their lives.  The story of their time in New York takes up about half the book; the years following their New York adventure are covered in the other half, right up until Cora’s death several decades later.

That summary is not really more than what you would get from reading the book flap, but the book is written in such a way that I don’t want to give you more than that.  It would spoil the quality of the experience.  Secrets are revealed, background stories unfolded, and things are not always as they seem.  Laura Moriarty does a brilliant job of making sure the reader has the sense from the first few pages that there is more going on than meets the eye, and then she sets up reveals that are perfectly timed throughout the narrative.  It is an interesting, enjoyable, well-written read that is not just about somebody famous but also spanning over decades of American history, watched from the perspective of the characters as they experience it.  I was unaware of Louise Brooks, so finding out there was a famous silent era movie star from Kansas was fun, and I enjoyed finding out more about her life and career.  I also love anything that covers a long historical span - books that place characters in the midst of real events are the kind I like the best.  

Now, to my original statement.  I enjoyed how well written the book was and the historical nature of the story.  I loved how the characters were developed and how the author kept me intrigued.  The main characters in the story, however, were making choices throughout the book that I did not enjoy.  In many cases, I believed their actions were not the best, and even downright wrong.   I suppose this would make this a great book to discuss: how do you feel about the life choices of the characters in question?  Do you think things worked out for the best for them?  What kinds of choices would you have made in the same situation?  The book makes you ponder all these questions, and pondering is a good thing.  Books should make you THINK.  They should make you imagine and reason out and draw conclusions. They should stretch you, challenge your opinions and assumptions, and even solidify your own beliefs by presenting opposite ideas.  The Chaperone did all those things for me.  Just because I disagreed with the path most of the characters chose to walk did not mean I couldn’t appreciate the book for the quality literature it was.  

The Chaperone is an interesting, well-written read that paints a broad picture of history while presenting challenging ideas on life choices and ideals.  I enjoyed the experience.  And, as a bonus, if you live in the Pittsburg area, the author is coming to visit the public library THIS SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 22 at 2:00 PM!  If you have read the book, or if you are simply intrigued by the idea, come by the library and meet Laura Moriarty herself!  

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
What I'm reading now: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
1. Always the Wedding Planner, Never the Bride by Sandra Bricker
Crazy Love by Francis Chan
The Story of Britain by Rebecca Fraser
Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal
5. The Autobiography of Henry VIII  by Margaret George  

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