Louise Brooks was an iconic dancer, actress, model, and showgirl during the first half of the 20th century. Known as no ordinary follower, she paved the way for those who would learn to develop a unique style in the same career path. Laura Moriarty takes us to the very beginning of Louise’s career and a new life for Cora Carlisle, who chaperones Louise on her trip to New York where she will train for a potential career with the Denishawn Modern Dance Company.
Although Cora is an older, sedate Midwestern woman, she’s tougher than steel and yet warm and wise beyond her years. Cora is an orphan who was lucky enough to be adopted by the Kaufmann family from a harsh orphanage, a place where parentless children were raised to be sent on “the train,” to work on Midwestern farms, in homes, and other unsavory places. Louise, on the other hand, is unloved and scarred by her parents and others, a background Cora understands has shaped Louise into the hard, cynical, and sometimes downright nasty young adult she is. Cora manages Louise just fine but secretly proceeds to search for her own past identity.
The remainder of this vividly poignant and surprising story charts the journey of both women, who have been betrayed over and over again and yet find a modicum of peace in very different yet engaging ways that keep the reader riveted to each page. Who will each become as one seeks meaningful, trusting relationships and the other yearns for public acclaim? What shapes us more, nature or nurture (or lack thereof)? The Chaperone is a painful yet benign history of sexual mores in 20th-century America. Laura Moriarty’s novel is a shocking but well-written, endearing read that is just wonderful!