if you had trouble molding your personality, dreams, and passions to
fit society's expectations? Maeve Fanning, a first-generation Irish girl
living in North Boston during the Depression, would learn firsthand the
devastating price of failing to tamp down her wildness.
Looking back is a dangerous thing. I've spent much of my time studying other ages, searching out the treasures of ancient worlds, but I've always found it best to move forward, eyes front, in one's own life. Hindsight casts a harsh, unforgiving light, and histories too tender and raw are stripped bare of the thousand shadowy self-deceptions that few of us can afford to see ourselves without.—Rare Objects by Kathleen Tessaro (Harper, 2016, prologue; uncorrected proofs)
- Setting: 1930s; Boston area; New York City
- Circumstances: After leaving home, Maeve has a rocky start in New York, eventually ending up being committed to a home for the mentally unstable. Returning to her mother's Boston apartment, Maeve reinvents herself as "May," landing a job at a shady antiques shop. When one of her socialite clients, Diana, turns out to have been a fellow inmate at the asylum, the two women bond over their secret shared experience. But the more May is lured into the world of the rich and powerful, the more her proper, well-bred facade begins to crack. How long can May pretend to be who she isn't?
- Characters: Maeve/May, an Irish woman who tries to rein in her wild side; Diana, a frenemy and bad influence; James, Diana's brother and one of May's lovers; May's mother, bosses, other boyfriends, clients, and acquaintances
- Themes: alcoholism, friendship, women's issues, betrayal, secrets, prejudice, business ethics (or lack thereof), the Depression, mother-daughter relationships
- Genre: historical fiction
- General thoughts: The first few chapters have drawn me in to Maeve's story and her struggle to balance her passions with her ambition and society's expectations
- Reviews—The Good: Reviews have been fairly positive, mentioning Tessaro's focus on the restrictions women faced in the 1930s. Interesting aspects of the plot involve Prohibition, questionable business dealings, class differences, and secrets.
- Reviews—The Not So Good: At the same time, reviewers have mentioned that the first part of the novel is better than the slower-paced last part. Kirkus complained that there was too much telling and not enough showing. And at least one reviewer noted that Tessaro didn't break new ground with this story.
- Recommendations: So far, I'm interested in Maeve/May's journey toward independence and her desire to better herself. Based on the first third of the novel, I can recommend the book to fans of Kathleen Tassaro (The Perfume Collector) and anyone interested in the early 1930s. We'll see if I'm still on board as the story progresses.