Judging a book by the cover is dangerous business – “The Chaperone” by Laura Moriarty

July 31, 2013 at 12:39 pm 1 comment

Louise Brooks: Fashion Portraits

Louise Brooks: Fashion Portraits (Photo credit: thefoxling)

“The Chaperone” by Laura Moriarty, Published in 2012

I made fatal reading error with this book.  I assumed by its description and my lack of knowledge of the real Louise Brooks that this book would be a light read.  I will also admit I made this assumption in part because of the book cover. I mean it has polka dots on it, doesn’t that just imply “fun times”?  Imagine my surprise to find that polka dots really mean “abused girl who makes good in Hollywood only to end up a drunk and bankrupt with a prostitution side business.”  My friends, be wary of the polka dots.

It is 1922 and Cora lives in Wichita, Kansas. She is in her late thirties, her children are grown and her husband is a busy attorney.  Cora hears about an opportunity to chaperone her neighbor’s 15-year-old daughter, Louise Brooks, for a month in New York City while Louise studies dance.  Cora decides to take the job and, of course, Cora’s reasons for doing this are complicated.

When Cora was a young girl the orphanage where she had lived shipped her by train from New York to the Midwest in the hopes that someone along the various stops would adopt her.  She was finally adopted and had a fairly happy childhood.  But she always wondered why her parents had handed her over to the orphanage when she was a toddler. So her trip to New York is an attempt to find out who her parents are.  It is also a temporary escape from her life in Wichita and her marriage that is purely a matter of convenience for both her and her husband. Her life has been one game of smoke and mirrors after another and Cora is tired.

Louise Brooks is a force and Cora’s job of chaperoning is not as easy as anticipated.  While Louise seems committed to her dance class, she is also committed to flirting with every guy they meet and finding ways to get bath-tub gin – which during Prohibition is easier than one would think.  Cora is constantly trying to keep Louise on track and, perhaps ironically, protect her reputation. If you know anything about Louise Brooks, you know at the age of 15 there was no reputation to protect. She had already been used and abused by multiple men.   As Cora continues her stay in New York her life changes and she eventually returns to Wichita without Louise (who stays with the dance company) with a new idea on how her life can be truly happy, even if not ideal.   Louise goes on to be a silent film star, who has many affairs and lives much of her life in a bankrupt-drunken haze.

Moriarty’s writing has some great story-telling in the first two-thirds of the book.   After that she really doesn’t seem to have much to say and the story, though quickly moving through many years, loses its momentum.  It merely follows the remainder of Cora’s life which is not very compelling.  Occasionally, Cora hears about Louise and at one point visits her but these incidents have no satisfying conclusion or direction.  Moriarty paints Louise as a one-dimensional, self-absorbed, unethical beauty with a painful childhood.  Maybe this is truly how she was but if this is the case then perhaps she was not the best subject for historical fiction.  Or maybe I am just jaded and find the story of the beautiful, washed-up movie star a bit over-played.

Regardless, my next book has a preppy-looking belt on the cover – it looks a bit whimsical.  This could go terribly wrong…

Other reviews to check out:

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Entry filed under: July 2013 reads. Tags: , , , , .

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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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