Title: The Chaperone
Author: Laura Moriarty
Publish Date: June 5, 2012
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Page Count: 13 hours, 10 minutes
Source: Library (via OverDrive)
Date Read: May 2-6, 2020
A dull saga about people living in Wichita. I can't even shelve this as "historical fiction" because the historical part is so superficial, it isn't worth mentioning. This is some low-grade Lifetime Movie women's fiction crap. The author must have had a checklist of agenda items/issues she would be shoe-horning into the story, whether or not those items/issues seem related to the storyline at all. There were (in no particular order): Jim Crow/racism, Lysol as a form of birth control, gay husband, immigrants, orphans, orphan train, eugenics, other birth control, alcohol/Prohibition, workaholic dads, unfulfilled moms, etc.
The chaperone, Cora Carlisle, is a 36 year old woman living in Wichita with her husband, Alan and two sons (who are about to go off to college). She decides to chaperone fellow Wichita resident, Louise Brooks (an actual person - check out the Stuff You Missed in History Class episode), as Louise makes her way from Kansas to NYC in 1922 to study dance with the famed Denishawn Dance Company. Cora has, unsurprisingly, a reason for wanting a free trip to NYC (courtesy of Brooks' dad, who pays all expenses to get rid of the daughter) - she was an orphan and placed with a Catholic orphanage that put her on an orphan train when she was roughly 6 years old. So she went looking for information on her parents. She was quasi-adopted by a couple from McPherson, Kansas and grew up on a farm. When the couple died suddenly, she was 16 and left penniless - since she wasn't formally adopted, the couple's other children kept her out of the will and inheritance. Hiring a lawyer (the aforementioned Alan), she got enough money to live on while studying at a teacher college. Alan came calling regularly after the settlement, and they married soon after. Alan and her had relations enough times to get her pregnant with twins, and that ended any marriage stuff between them - because, surprise! Alan was hella gay with his dear friend Raymond - a fact that Cora discovered one day when she found them in bed naked together.
She decided to stay married to keep Alan and Raymond's secret and because Alan was well off and she liked living easy and having money. While in NYC, she found out information about her mother, met her mother, and the mother was less than awesome and wanted nothing to do with Cora. Considering the unrelenting bore that constituted Cora's personality, I agree with the mother. Cora decides that a lack of affection from both gay husband and cold mother would led to an one night stand with Joseph Schmidt, the handyman at the orphanage who helped Cora gain the information about the mother. When they were discovered by the nuns when they left his apartment, he was fired and lost his apartment to boot. So Cora's big idea was for Joseph and his young daughter Greta come live with her and Alan in Wichita, going with the lie that Joseph was her brother she found in NYC and Greta her niece. Also Raymond is half-living with them as well, leaving at 10pm every night to go home to his apartment for a few hours before showing up again at the breakfast table. Joseph and her continue on their affair but on the down-low (only Alan knows what is going on between them). This is 66% of the book - one big disjointed family living in America's heartland. The other 33% is a series of false endings with finally Cora passing away at age 100. This last part was a slog to get through and the historical events were mentioned in a newspaper or television show, not really intertwined in the story at all.
Louise Brooks makes few appearances while Cora has her adventures in NYC and then goes back to Wichita yet Louise is the one that is on the cover and the blurb makes it seem Brooks and Cora have more of a connection and influence on each other; the truth is that this is almost all Cora's show and Louise is just there for a cameo. Their scenes together are the typical older woman lecturing a younger woman and cringe-fests to boot.
The only good thing about listening to the audiobook of this dull story is having Elizabeth McGovern's voice in my ears. McGovern is probably most known for her role as Lady Cora Grantham in the Downton Abbey show and movie. She does a really good job with the accents, especially the Mid-western tone that is subtle but present and the short, terse German accent of Joseph Schmidt.