In 1922, Louise Brooks left her home in Wichita, Kansas to study dance in New York City. Since she was only 15 and too young to be travelling alone, her family hired a woman to accompany her on the journey and watch over her in the city. This part of the story is true. This novel is not about Louise Brooks though, as the the title suggests, it is about the chaperone, a purely fictional character named Cora.
With grown children and a preoccupied husband, Cora takes the job of escorting Louise to New York. Although her life was far from conventional, Cora was a product of the Victorian era – clinging to rigid social norms she was raised to obey and respect. This conflicted with Louise’s free spirit and undisciplined upbringing. The pair spend a tense summer together, with Cora trying to keep her charge out of trouble, and Louise trying to assert her freedom.
By the end of the summer, Louise moved forward with her career in show business. Meanwhile, her enlightened chaperone returned to Kansas. The story continued from there, following Cora and her family as they moved though the decades of conflict and change that came with each new generation.
If you’re looking forward to reading a book about Louise Brooks, you might be disappointed. The real life character seemed two dimensional, leaving me to feel like the chaperone could have had her life altering experience in New York City with any bratty, precocious, flapper of that time. The inclusion of the famous actress seemed almost inconsequential. Also, the character of Cora often seemed more like a stereotype of a proper, small town housewife of that period than a real person.
Despite my criticism, I actually really enjoyed this book. The story was fantastic and made up for what was lacking in the characters. Plus, I love fiction based on real events and people – especially from that era, of course.
Now, can someone get working on a fictional story about Sarah Murphy for me? Please and thank you!