A sweeping yet compact saga that traces one woman’s life from wealth and affluence to a Chicago brothel, as she learns to rely on herself in the face of numerous obstacles and challenges.
Young Claire Bradley, born to a wealthy family in turn-of-the-century New York, becomes friends with a tightknit group of women, both fellow students and their maids, while a boarding-school student in Paris. The girls promise to always remain close, so they naturally rush to Claire’s aid after she loses her fiancÃ© to a poisoning incident and then her parents to financial ruin as a result of one man’s covert manipulation. A small nest egg and some Chicago-area property left to Claire by her fiancÃ© allow her to establish an exclusive private gentlemen’s club with her girlfriends. While organized crime and world events like World War I and the stock market crash of 1929 threaten the happy compound, plucky Claire and her charming and resourceful friends, gifted in arts like cooking, sewing and languages, come out on top again and again, due in no small part to the assistance of a handsome police officer who patiently wins Claire’s heart, culminating in a long and happy marriage where they enjoy the company of their friends and children. Blair’s literary writing style is appealing yet it cannot fully overcome a lack of editorial polish where the errors are sometimes glaring (i.e., it was John Jacob Astor, not Aster, who perished on the Titanic, and one character’s name changes from Mclean to Mclain on the same page). Claire is engaging, however her merciful tendencies toward those who would do her wrong, especially the man who murdered her fiancÃ© and wiped out her father’s fortune, are so intense and all-forgiving to be frustratingly unrealistic. The characters fit stereotypical molds and their persistent rallying around Claire doesn’t make for a lot of dramatic tension–they seem to think she’s nothing but wonderful and wise.
A satisfactory historical fiction novel that could use more edge and polish.