A fanciful, fictional memoir of the real-life Evangeline Smith Adams, the most famous astrologer of the early 20th century.
Anyone who can predict the future should be able to write her own obituary. Adams, the astrologer, known as the “seer of Wall Street” for advising clients like J.P. Morgan, reportedly predicted her Nov. 10, 1932, demise earlier the same year. Adams, the author (The Seventh Ritual, 2009, etc.), pushes that prediction backward three decades to establish the primary tension driving his story—professional ambition versus the ticking clock. (The author has no familial relationship to the astrologer or her ancestors, U.S. presidents John and John Quincy.) The fiction closely follows fact and includes reprints of newspaper stories. In 1899, the 31-year-old Evangeline, unconventional and career-minded, cancels a wedding engagement; moves from Boston to New York to launch her astrology business; predicts the Windsor Hotel fire; gains notoriety; and sets up shop at Carnegie Hall. She later beats fortunetelling arrests in court; maintains a long-running relationship with an actress, playwright, and suffragist; and marries her young business manager, who propels her career via radio, books, and speeches to the pinnacle of fame and fortune. Mirroring Evangeline’s affinity for gaudy antiques, Adams has a penchant for piling up modifiers: “Hands rested aimlessly upon the 19th-century mahogany teapoy table, faces stared into the Italian Gilt Wood Grapevine mirror blankly, and mindless chatter took place around the Baroque ‘Putto Face’ cast iron wall fountain.” Whether such constructions enhance the story’s verisimilitude or detract from it depends on personal taste; they occur often but neither make nor break the story. Style aside, the story itself is intriguing, the pace is lively, and the pages turn quickly. The author infuses his characters with consistent personality traits, believable motives, and outlooks that are changed by events over decades. Most importantly, he gives Evangeline a fitting central quest: reconciling her confidence in the infallibility of the stars with her own life choices.
After this fine historical novel, it’s easy to predict new fans for Adams.