In Durham’s (Tides of Grace, 2012) latest historical novel, a free-spirited young woman with a tarnished past rubs elbows with turn-of-the-century Broadway big shots.
In the wake of a scandalous teenage affair with her teacher, 22-year-old Grace realizes that she may never lead the conventional life expected of a young lady in 1910s St. Louis. But she refuses to accept the sealed fate of a tainted woman. After Grace marries Ray Dobbins, a young, ambitious theater manager, she embarks on an exciting new life as a secretary for notorious Broadway theater executive J.J. Shubert in New York City. Grace is shocked and delighted by her ability to travel through New York unescorted, and she soon finds that there are plenty of other freedoms afforded young city women. Adult readers who grew up enamored with L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables are likely to fall instantly in love with Grace. Her quest to find herself socially, professionally and sexually mirrors the lives of many modern 20-somethings. (However, her struggles with a “dark angel” are somewhat underexplained.) This second book of a planned sextet awkwardly attempts to integrate the vast back story from the previous novel and, as a result, feels disjointed at points, but it nonetheless manages to stand alone as a self-contained story. Broadway fans may delight in the novel’s insight into the real lives of theater bigwigs such as Shubert and Irving Berlin; their stories provide a window into the glamorous and sometimes-salacious side of an era known for its conservatism. As such, Durham delicately approaches the theme of Grace’s sexuality in a way that captures the timid naïveté of a turn-of-the-century woman while also acknowledging his readers’ modern values.
A well-told tale of an early-20th-century woman’s quest for liberation.