Author: Laura Moriarty
Genre: Fiction, Historical (1920's-1940's)
Publisher: Riverhead Books (Penguin)
Pub. Date: June 5, 2012
I didn't know who she was prior to reading The Chaperone, but Louise Brooks was a silent film actress in the 1920's and 1930's known for her difficult attitude and sexually liberated personality. In the early 1920's before she was famous, she took a trip to New York City from Wichita, Kansas to study with the Denishawn dance company. Her parents were unable to accompany her, so a woman in the community was requested to chaperone her trip to NYC. Moriarty's The Chaperone imagines this trip, focusing on the relationship between Louise and the chaperone but more so on how this trip ultimately changes the life of this chaperone.
Although the trip and chaperone component were true, as well as the facets related to Louise herself, the actual chaperone in this book was a fictional character. I'm not sure how much else of her story is fact or fiction.
So, Cora Carlisle is a the woman who volunteers to accompany Louise Brooks to NYC. Her two boys have gone to work on a farm for the summer before college, and she has her own reasons for wanting to go to the city. Poor Cora has no idea what's in store for her dealing with a 15-year-old, rebellious, Louise! But she manages, not without shock at Louise's escapades, and fulfills her own reason for visiting the city. After she drops Cora off at the dance school each day, she goes off into the city to search for the answer to who she is, not necessarily finding the answer she wants but learning so much about herself and her own happiness.
One of the focuses of this novel as told through the experiences of Cora Carlisle is that of all the social change that was happening during this era. Cora is a fairly traditional woman and has trouble at first opening her eyes to the new ways of thinking, what with all the new feminist values (including those risque fashions) and prohibition; not to mention the social events from when Cora was a child including the orphan trains. Through Cora and Louise, the various points of these social arguments are presented. But through Cora's mission to learn more about herself and her reflections on her experiences with Louise, she begins to see things differently. And even though this book takes place in the early 1900's, it's relevant to today in many ways, as we continue to experience social changes and controversies. (There were a lot of issues in here that would lead to great discussion and might be good for a book club.)
I'll admit, Louise's character drove me nuts. I can't say that I liked her. I adored Cora, though, and I loved seeing the growth she made throughout the book. She's dealt with some difficult things in her life, too, and seeing the resolution to all of this was sweet as well.
I finished this book the same day I started it. It's definitely one of my favorites of the year so far!