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The Madam

3.13  ·  Rating details ·  171 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
West Virginia, 1924: Alma works in a hosiery mill where the percussive roar of machinery has far too long muffled the engine that is her heart. When Alma's husband decides that they should set out to find their fortune in Florida, Alma has little choice but to leave her three children and ailing mother behind. But when Alma is then abandoned at a Miami dock, she is suddenl ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published August 24th 2004 by Washington Square Press (first published September 16th 2003)
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Rating details
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Aug 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: shelf-of-wonders
Stolid, pragmatic Alma leaves work at the lint-filled hosiery mill and plods home through her 1920s West Virginia world awash in coal dust to a house packed full of show-people boarders, a railroad man husband with pie in the sky dreams, and three children who deserve a better childhood. When she gets there, her work will begin again, endlessly, as though the denizens of the household comprise a rather large and unseemly nest of squalling baby birds with infinite needs and peculiarities.

En route
May 06, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: general-fiction
The writing was beautiful and gave me a headache. Her words brought with them extremely vivid images and yet I felt detached from all of the characters. It's a shame there was no "voice", because based on real life experiences of the author's grandma, that voice could have been powerful. The pivotal scene in which she decides to become a madam was over in a few paragraphs. The entire book felt rushed. Lovely language, but a forgettable story.
Jul 16, 2011 rated it did not like it
This is an relentlessly depressing book about a poor woman working in a hosiery mill whose husband abandons her and she opens up a whorehouse. What made it most exhausting was that the book was written completely in present tense. Besides that, there was virtually no character who was remotely appealing. One of those books that I put down in the middle and didn't finish.
Apr 27, 2009 rated it it was ok
The writing was beautiful, but I didn't care for the story or any of the characters.
Jan 22, 2018 rated it liked it
A motley group of survivors strive to negotiate 1920s dustbowl America. Negotiating a life of grim beauty and unsteady redemption, a thread of hope and salvation somehow remains. A gritty but thoroughly enjoyable read, based on the author's grandmother's life and memories. 3.5 stars.
Mar 21, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to Jessica by: *Christie* Gardiner
Shelves: book-club
Alma is married and has three children. She is suffocating from her daily life, from her children’s needs, from her work in a loud and dusty hosiery factory in a loud and dusty mining town, and from poverty. When her husband Henry learns that there are abandoned trunks full of valuables for sale at a reasonable price in Florida, they decide to take a trip. That trip is the catalyst for change in almost all aspects of Alma’s life.

I liked this book. Well, more specifically, I liked the writing. It
Sep 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Although I ravenously devoured Baggott's children's books as a kid, I haven't so much as thought of her work since middle school. When I saw her section at the library, I thought it was about time I checked out her adult publications. This may have been a mistake.

Don't get me wrong, I gave The Madam four stars and don't regret it. The writing was impeccable, the characters were (mostly) interesting, and for the most part I enjoyed it. So why did I feel like something highly important was missin
Mar 21, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club-books
When I first started reading The Madam, I fell in love with the beautiful writing, but by end, I was exhausted of it. I just wanted her to say things without trying to be so artistic.

I realize that this book is based on the author's true grandmother's life and while I can appreciate that, I didn't feel the book showed enough motivation/character development to make the things the characters did plausible. For example, the most pivotal part of the novel--Alma deciding to run a brothel out of her
Mar 06, 2009 rated it did not like it
Sigh. I really wanted to give Julianna Baggott's fiction a chance. I adore her poetry and admire her ability to make a living through popular novels too. Unfortunately, I just cannot get into her prose. I tried reading The Miss America Family years ago, but put it down after just a few pages. I decided I owed it to her to at least read one of her novels straight through. The Madam looked promising, but ugh, nothing happened. The characters were not interesting. The plot was predictable.

So, I'll
Emily Reitz
Jan 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Baggott has a poetic, emotional, associative way of writing, and it's intoxicating. This story was like being swept along in a fit of desire, fear, and malaise. But I love the book! It was informative for me to read about whores as I intend to use this for a character I want to write. That being said, feminists will love this book for the strong female characters and oftentimes the realistic horrors of male figures (not all men but enough).
Mar 21, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: bookclub
There are books written for writers and books written for readers, this one was so "writing" heavy that the plot was lost along the way. There is no question that the writer was accomplished and wrote beautifully, but if the plot isn't there, writing good will never save you! Very jumpy and the characters were very under-developed. I didn't care for ANY of the characters with enough compassion to actual care what happened in the book.
Feb 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
The Writing of this book was well crafted and artistic. I give it four stars for the writing alone. I do wish there had been more plot. 200 pages more in fact. There were so many things going on that in just over 300 pages the reader barely has time to delve into any of the events. Everything was so surface I wish that there were fewer characters and fewer happenings so that the author had time to develop things more.
Mark Malone
I rate this book 2 of 5 -- FAIR. I would probably have liked this book better, with its depiction of poverty, subjection of women, and overcoming life's difficulties, if I had not read it right after reading Betty Smith's A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, which developed these themes so deeply and poignantly.
Aug 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
If this book had come out the same year as Water For Elephants, the American public would have eaten it would make a great companion read for that and for Sex in the City. My mom, who grew up in the depression, read it and found it so true to life and beautiful, and so did I.
Jul 24, 2011 rated it liked it
I liked this book a great deal. It touches on a particularly lucrative way of rebuilding a life at the end of a relationship. I always felt like the characters were not completely formed but I still felt that they were accessible.
May 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 25, 2013 rated it did not like it
I couldn't get into this story. It was all over the place and totally insane. I read to part 2 and had to put it down. I wasted too much time on a horribly written story.
Feb 09, 2014 rated it liked it
Local author from Wilmington/Newark area.
Lisa Houpt
May 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was a first time read for me with Julianna and I loved it- the time period in the book was one I love and the characters are fantastic- it was almost as if I were there with them
Apr 06, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book took many turns with all of the different characters. Also interesting that a bear once lived in the house. Can only imagine all of them living under one roof
Apr 04, 2013 rated it it was ok
I'm not sure I care for this author she's too wordy with similies (is that the way you spell it?)
May 14, 2011 marked it as to-read
Shelves: to-read-soon
Julianna has an essay about the writing of this book in The Best Creative Nonfiction, Vol 3, which is awesome.
Jul 17, 2012 rated it liked it
A lot different from the other books I've read of this author. Heartbreaking and strong female characters
Dec 09, 2009 rated it liked it
so nice i read it twice
Aug 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful absolutely wonderful and poetic in the descriptions
Seth Tucker
rated it it was amazing
Jul 24, 2012
rated it it was ok
Mar 15, 2007
rated it it was ok
May 02, 2014
rated it it was ok
Jul 25, 2017
rated it liked it
Aug 16, 2012
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Connect with Julianna Baggott on Facebook:

Check out the new novel -- PURE

Also writes under the pen names N.E. Bode and Bridget Asher.

Critically acclaimed, bestselling author Julianna Baggott is the author of eighteen books, most notably her recent novel PURE, the first in a dystopian trilogy, a New York Times Book Review's Editor's Cho
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