Review: The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

I’m not a huge fan of American history. This is inconvenient, considering I live about 15 minutes away from the literal birthplace of the United States. But the Declaration of Independence and the Liberty Bell have never interested me in the slightest. Give me Europe, with its centuries-old palaces (and the 8-hour flights it takes to get there), any day. But I have always loved the 1920s. I’m not sure what it is about it that’s always appealed to me, but I’m a sucker for a speakeasy and a flapper dress. This is why I picked up The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty, a fictionalized account of Louise Brooks’ entré into 1920s pop culture told from the point of view of the woman who escorted her from Wichita to New York City.

This was a fun read. I enjoyed learning more about the early years of Louise Brooks, who was at one time poised to become an enormous movie star before her appeal fizzled and she ended up a film journalist. She was obnoxious, it’s true, but she was also damaged in a way that probably wouldn’t have earned much in the way of understanding or compassion at the time. Cora, the narrator and chaperone, was wound a bit tightly for my tastes – but I had to keep reminding myself that she was a woman living in the Midwest in the early 20th century, and to my delight, she sufficiently loosened up enough by the end of the story to redeem herself in my eyes. She wasn’t a bad person, just unaware.

The pacing of the book was uneven – the first three-quarters covered just a few summer weeks in New York City, while the remaining quarter covered more than 50 years. At the end, everything was wrapped up in a neat little bow that felt a bit forced. We learned exactly what happened to every character, even some of the minor ones, and I feel the ending would have been tighter and more satisfying if the story ended with Cora and Louise, where it began. But it wasn’t enough to ruin my enjoyment of the book, and I’d like to see the movie adaptation as well. PBS can do very little wrong in my opinion, and I’m looking forward to it!

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