Maeve Fanning is back in Boston and living with her mother after running away to New York City. There were many reasons she fled Boston, among others were that she wanted to escape the provincialism and expectations of those around her. New York was not the city she imagined and she found a hard life there, one derailed by random, sometimes dangerous men, bootleg gin, and one almost ended by a suicide attempt. After her mandatory stay at an asylum and now back at home, she is ready to look for a job but it's the midst of the Depression and so there are no jobs to be had, especially for a young, redheaded Irish woman. The only job that presents itself is one that she is not suited for, secretary and sales clerk at a very exclusive antique store. Changing her appearance, Anglicizing her name, and creating a fiction that carefully hides the truth of her less than genteel origins, she intrigues one of the shop's partners and lands the job. It is through the antiques store that she will come to renew her acquaintance with Diana Van der Laar, a wealthy heiress she met briefly during her stay in the asylum. And it it through Diana that she will meet the disturbing but captivating James, Diana's brother. Maeve, now know as May, is caught up in the glittering and false world of the Van der Laars, spending nights at speakeasies, dancing and drinking. She is seduced by the life and the people, sinking ever further into troubles she cannot stop.
May is inquisitive and intelligent. She's resourceful and full of promise, except when her desires, alcohol and the wrong men among them, sabotage her. She is understandably attracted to wealth and to all that it offers, even though she sees that the gilded cage that Diana lives in is no more freeing than the cage of poverty found in the tenements of the North Side. And she comes to understand everyone is just as busy inventing the self as she is, regardless of the price of the cage they live in. The themes of living the truth and the disparity of class would perhaps have been enough to drive the story but Tessaro also includes alcoholism, abortion, promiscuity, homosexuality as mental illness (as it was viewed at the time), the shady origins of the diamond industry in South Africa, religious intolerance, and adultery as well. While the story of May's tempestuous friendship with Diana and obsession with James is page turning, the inclusion of so many other issues cause all of them to be a bit short changed and feel like too many social issues in one story. The characters are all troubled in some way and the ominous tone and sense of foreboding don't ever lessen in the reading. The beginning of the novel, where an older Maeve looks backwards into her past when she steps into a room at the Museum of Fine Arts and sees a black agate ring, doesn't quite come full circle in the end, especially given the painful memories it stirs up. But despite these handful of weaknesses, it's a hard book to put down and the reader will be swept along in May's tale of self-invention, wealth, and deceit.
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Thanks to the publisher and Trish from TLC Book Tours.