The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

The Better Than Therapy Book Club will be discussing The Chaperone on Wednesday, July 31 at 2:00 p.m.

I was originally attracted to this book by the connection with Louise Brooks, a fascinating, irreverentand tragic silent screen star of the 1920’s. But, as the title suggests, the main character is "the chaperone," Cora. I was totally charmed by Cora, and I have to say she has joined the list of my favorite fictional characters.

Cora seems to have a perfect, but perfectly ordinary, life as the book opens. She lives in Wichita. She's in her mid-30's, married to a handsome, kind and successful lawyer, with two sons. She's no shrinking violet: She was an early "lady driver" and a suffragette, but she is also very traditional, with her high collars and constricting corsets and a strong sense of duty. So it's a bit of a surprise when she offers to chaperone a virtual stranger, the wild and rebellious fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks, to her dance classes in New York.

Cora, we learn, has her own reasons for going to New York. I'm not going to say anything else because I don't want to give away anything that readers should discover on their own. Suffice it to say that Cora's story went in different directions, far from what I had originally expected - - you know, the stuffy middle-aged woman goes wild and learns to enjoy life thanks to the wise teenager. No. It's much better and more unexpected and very enjoyable, primarily thanks to the character of Cora. While what she finds isn’t what she anticipated, she is liberated in a way she could not have imagined. Over the course of Cora’s relationship with Louise, her eyes are opened to the promise of the twentieth century and a new understanding of the possibilities for being fully alive.

Drawing on the rich history of the 1920s,’30s, and beyond—from the orphan trains to Prohibition, flappers, and the onset of the Great Depression to the burgeoning movement for equal rights and new opportunities for women—Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone illustrates how rapidly everything, from fashion and hemlines to values and attitudes, was changing at this time and what a vast difference it all made for Louise Brooks, Cora Carlisle, and others like them.

~ Leslie West