The Chaperone

The Chaperone - Corsets, yes. Condoms, no. Times are changing in 1922, but repressive attitudes linger. Birth control is for sleazy people. Divorce carries a permanent stigma. Homosexuals are called "sodomites," and face severe consequences if found out. The Volstead Act (Prohibition) is strongly enforced, and abstinence a virtue. Like most people in Wichita, Cora Carlisle adheres to these conventions out of habit, and fear of being ostracized by the community. Along comes sassy little Louise Brooks. Beautiful, talented, ambitious and brazen. She's ready to take on New York City, but she's only fifteen, so Cora is sent along to make sure Louise maintains the proper decorum. The five weeks they spend together in New York help to launch Louise's career as a silent-film sensation. In more subtle and unexpected ways, the trip serves as a catalyst for changes in Cora's attitudes and lifestyle. Cora is "the chaperone," and this is her story. Laura Moriarty writes with quiet elegance about the changes in the roles of women and societal norms. She shows not only the contrast between 36-year-old Cora and 15-year-old Louise, but also the differences between Wichita and New York City in that era. Most interesting (and distressing) to me was seeing the way people had to live a lie in the public eye in order to gain a measure of happiness in private. So many things were frowned upon, and often illegal, that people had to feign moral rectitude while taking great risks behind closed doors and curtains. As far as I know, Cora Carlisle was not a real person, but she serves as an excellent vehicle to carry us through almost 100 years of life. A woman born in the 1880s and living into the 1980s had a lot of adjustments to make as the world changed around her. Cora isn't a particularly exciting person, but the context in which she is placed makes her interesting indeed. The story has some flaws in pacing, crawling along in some places and fast-forwarding in others. Aside from that, it's written with confidence and subtlety by an author who knows the story she wants to tell and is determined to tell it her own way. I'm glad I went along for the ride. Review copy provided by the publisher.