Natalie E. Ramm's Reviews > The Chaperone

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
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Jul 10, 12

Read from April 24 to 30, 2012

It’s 1922 and Cora Kaufman Carlisle has agreed to chaperone Louise Brooks (the infamous silent film star) on a trip to New York City where Louise will attend dance classes. Cora’s decision to chaperone may seem a little odd. She’s 36, lives in Kansas, she’s married to a gorgeous man, and has twin boys (i.e. she has everything a woman could wish for), but what few people know is that she’s not the farm girl everyone thinks she is. Cora’s story started in NYC many years ago.

She’s drawn to the city where she was born and where she has a vague memory of a woman holding her as a child. Years ago the nuns at the orphanage put her and others on a westbound ‘orphan train’ (which I had never heard of) to travel the length of the country. People would adopt these orphans for extra labor, but Cora got lucky with the Kaufmans. They wanted a child not a worker bee.

She married Alan Carlisle and essentially lived happily ever after in the eyes of all those looking in. However, all is not as it seems. Her marriage is more of an arrangement than a relationship. She feels like something in her life is missing, and Cora hopes the trip to New York will solve it. Little does she know that she’ll find out more about her past and about herself as a person—and as a woman in a drastically changing period of history—than she ever thought possible.

The Chaperone spans Cora’s entire life time, which is a good long time. Now I like conflict resolution, but when you start resolving EVERY conflict, the story loses its momentum and gets cumbersome. For example, the first 3/4 of the book is action, action, action and then the last bit is just a round up of what all the offspring are doing and historical events (in this case: the crash, women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement, etc.). Usually I just want to skip that bit, like in The Poisonwood Bible. Awesome book, but I didn’t even finish the last section! The Chaperone was beautifully written, but the end drags on a little too long.

That said, Cora undergoes an incredible transformation in the novel (skillfully handled on Moriarty’s part). She is basically a mouthpiece for conservative, male-dominated culture at the beginning of the book and by the end she’s opening up a shelter for unwed, pregnant women. She also sticks it to her uppity lady friends in one scene that puts a big smug grin on my face.

This book tackles a lot of poignant cultural and political issues of the early-mid 20th century including class-ism, racism, sexual double standards, and homosexuality. Funny we still have ALL of these issues. It’s also incredible that Moriarty makes someone as famous as Louise Brooks a main character in the novel, but not the protagonist or even the focal point. Props, Ms. Moriarty! In the end, I think this book is about how it’s never too late to change your life for the better. Cora felt stifled by her stagnant Kansas life and she let her curiosity take her to New York where she discovered herself (and love and liberation).
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04/26/2012 page 45
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