The Secret Life of Violet Grant, Beatriz Williams, author; Kathleen McInerny, narrator
Vivian Schuyler, a young Manhattan socialite, is a working girl, albeit against the wishes of her family. Although she wants to be more than a gopher at the magazine where she works, she will have to work her way up from the bottom. Women did not have much opportunity in the mid 1960’s, when the book begins. Mostly, they were employed as teachers or secretaries or assistants of some kind.
When Vivian receives a notice about a package waiting for her at the post office, she rushes over just before closing time. The line moves very slowly and as she nears the counter, the post office closes. Fortuitously, a handsome young man offers to help her, He tells the clerk that he made a mistake; she was ahead of him on line. He gives her his place, but not before Vivian makes a bit of a scene demanding service.
When she gets her package, he finds himself drawn to her and he helps her lug it home. It is heavy and bulky since it is a suitcase. She could not have done it alone. Vivian has no idea who has sent this suitcase to her, and she finds there is no key to open it. When the young man suggests she break into it, she refuses. When they examine it, they see that the name on it has been crossed out and her name has been added. She and the young man decide that it was intended for Violet Schuyler, the name that was scratched out, and not Vivian.
This young man enchants Vivian. She discovers that he is a doctor and is exhausted. He promptly falls asleep in her apartment, and she happily lets him remain there. They find they are drawn to each other, and they spend the next day together as compatibly as if they had known each other for years as they are comfortable bantering back and forth with each other. However, she will soon find out that, like the suitcase, this budding doctor has many secrets.
When Vivian tells her parents about the suitcase and asks if they know anyone named Violet Schuyler, they react with shock and dismay. Her mother forbids her to look into Violet’s life because it would embarrass them. She learns that there was once an Aunt named Violet who had moved to Europe to study science and had been banished by the family when she married her professor and remained there. She had also been accused of murdering her husband. No one had heard from her for decades, and no one knew much about her or cared to find out anything about what had happened to her. Vivian decided, unlike them, she wanted to find out about all of Violet’s secrets, regardless of her mother’s wishes.
Thus begins a novel that is very amusing and easy to read in some ways, but difficult in others because it is filled with crude language and overt descriptions of sexual encounters which often feel contrived as the story dwells on many romantic relationships centered around the explicit sex. Still, as the mystery takes the reader to Europe as it descends into World War I, it gets more interesting. The ending, if not quite believable, is an unexpected surprise as all the secrets are exposed and most of the threads are knitted together.
The story goes off on too many tangents, and often the dialogue requires the suspension of disbelief as it begins to feel like a fairytale with some silly themes as Vivian goes from a strict sense of morality when it comes to friendship to stretching the envelope when it comes to romantic relationships. Instead of being about the secret life of Violet, it seemed to be about the sexual escapades of the various characters. Vivian seemed to go from being flighty to being resolute, depending on the moment, and I never quite figured out what kind of a person she really was and never did like her very much.
The Jump Artist, Austin Ratner This is the story of Phillip Halsmann, a Latvian Jew who, in 1929, was condemned falsely for the murder of his father while on a hiking trip in the Tyrolean Alps, in Western Austria. Convicted by a Kangaroo Court of liars and anti-Semites, not once, but twice, when they presented false evidence and hid pertinent facts, he was finally pardoned and released after two years in prison, at the behest of several influential, famous personages, Jews who had some influence and knew, like the Dreyfus Affair, the Halsmann Affair was another example of injustice spawned by ignorance and hatred of the Jews. It was a harbinger of the horrors to soon come, however, as Germany would soon attempt to conquer Europe and create an Aryan Nation under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. Before prison, Phillip was a student studying to be an engineer. He was falling in love and his life was before him. After his staged trials and his treatment in prison, he was often angry and unable to love properly. Although he tried to return to school to study engineering, he soon left. He abandoned his girlfriend Ruth who had loved and stood by him. He began to sink into a depression. He would admire strange women and imagine them naked. Filled with guilt, he pleasured himself, repenting by visiting various images of The Pieta. Soon, Phillip was allowing those who hated him to define him with all sorts of heinous descriptions. Eventually, in an effort to ignore his Latvian heritage and become more French, he changed his name to Phillipe Halsman. Soon, he found love again. Quickly, though, he learned that he would always be a Latvian Jew under Hitler’s regime. When he and his family finally escaped to America, he truly began to define himself and regain his self respect. Although he became a successful photographer, rather than the lawyer or doctor his father had hoped he would become, his family was proud of what he had achieved. Soon, he also earned the respect of many famous people who sought his services like, Marilyn Monroe, Andre Gide, Albert Einstein and others. However, his early career was defined by photos of barely dressed females he found in his travels. He wanted to photograph beautiful women whom he posed in various stages of undress. He was able to capture them in their best possible vantage point. Somehow his keen eye knew how to adjust light and position to capture the person’s true self. He was helped by his mother and sister who had remained devoted and loyal to him throughout his ordeal, and they had weathered the changes he made in his life alongside him, helping him as they were able. This book is an intuitive description of the degradation and disintegration of what once was a normal man, full of hope, devoted to his family, with a bright future ahead of him. Because of the false conviction of the terrible crime of patricide, the corrupt system almost destroyed him. If nothing else, this book should be a lesson to all those who are so quick to judge the current President of the United States without allowing him the right to defend himself bolstered by a press that constantly maligns him, often falsely.