Wharton’s novel was little appreciated in its time, and it hasn’t benefited from the same revival of interest that eventually rescued F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, another Jazz Age novel. Maybe it’s because our culture is created and largely controlled by latter-day Pauline (and Paul) Manfords. Gatsby’s novel is held to reject the American dream itself as a falsity, obscene wealth as corrupting, and the WASP ruling class as a permanent source of oppression, despite its evident decline. Compared with Wharton’s novel, which cuts deeper and is more personal, Gatsby looks like a cheap attempt at scapegoating. For Twilight Sleep is a satire of the modern age, but it targets some of our permanent temptations. If we’re about to embark on a new Roaring Twenties, Wharton’s book will remind us that we’ve been there before.Michael Brendan Dougherty
I do not typically read novels about rich and glamorous people, but Beatriz Williams’ latest novel A Certain Age caught my eye. It caught my eye because it is a mystery hidden inside accounts of New York City life in the 1920s from the perspective of two women.
From the publisher:
As the freedom of the Jazz Age transforms New York City, the iridescent Mrs. Theresa Marshall of Fifth Avenue and Southampton, Long Island, has done the unthinkable: she’s fallen in love with her young paramour, Captain Octavian Rofrano, a handsome aviator and hero of the Great War. An intense and deeply honorable man, Octavian is devoted to the beautiful socialite of a certain age and wants to marry her. While times are changing and she does adore the Boy, divorce for a woman of Theresa’s wealth and social standing is out of the question, and there is no need; she has an understanding with Sylvo, her generous and well-respected philanderer husband.
But their relationship subtly shifts when her bachelor brother, Ox, decides to tie the knot with the sweet younger daughter of a newly wealthy inventor. Engaging a longstanding family tradition, Theresa enlists the Boy to act as her brother’s cavalier, presenting the family’s diamond rose ring to Ox’s intended, Miss Sophie Fortescue—and to check into the background of the little-known Fortescue family. When Octavian meets Sophie, he falls under the spell of the pretty ingénue, even as he uncovers a shocking family secret. As the love triangle of Theresa, Octavian, and Sophie progresses, it transforms into a saga of divided loyalties, dangerous revelations, and surprising twists that will lead to a shocking transgression . . . and eventually force Theresa to make a bittersweet choice.
Williams is a master of description – not only of characters, but of scenes as well. She paints a vivid picture of New York City life with all of the glitz and rebelliousness of the Jazz Age. Williams captures the initial stages of the liberation of women – freedom to vote for the first time, beginning to work outside the home, and more progressive thoughts on some social issues.
Although it is hard to relate to the massive amounts of wealth of the two female main characters, it is not hard to follow along and sympathize or be revolted by their behavior.
Williams adroitly tells the tale from both the perspective of young and naive Sophie and older and experienced Theresa. This approach is a great way to tell a story, especially when both characters are interacting with each other. For example, Williams does this perfectly at the wedding announcement party for Sophie and Ox. Williams describes Sophie’s actions in one chapter and Theresa’s reaction to those actions in another chapter.
Apparently Williams is known for her plot twists and lives up to it by including plenty of these all the way to the end.
Thurber House’s Evenings with authors Fall Season is wrapping up. But next week’s event features bestselling mystery author Laurie R. King.Continue reading