Friday, April 8, 2016

Upward Mobility

It’s 1932, and the world is struggling through the Great Depression. Maeve, a young Irish immigrant, has just returned from New York, where her failure to find a secretarial job has led her into a web of lies, scandal, and alcohol that has landed her in a mental hospital. There she makes friends with a patient who stands out from the others; then Maeve’s enforced stay in the hospital ends, and she decides to leave New York and its bitter past behind.

Back in her mother’s home in Boston’s North End, Maeve is still searching for work. A chance encounter with a hiring service leads her to an antique shop where the owner needs an assistant—but the Irish need not apply. Maeve bleaches her red hair to blonde, becomes May (“with a y”) from Albany, and through her job in the shop mixes with Boston’s upper crust. One evening, a delivery brings her face to face with Diana, her friend from the asylum, and she becomes drawn into a strange and glittering world as far removed from her childhood apartment as it is from the poverty that afflicts much of the country. Diana’s brother, James, takes an interest in his sister’s new friend, and Maeve’s innocent deceit soon threatens to spin out of control.

In clear and unflinching prose, Kathleen Tessaro recreates the world of Depression-era Boston, both among the Brahmins and amid the Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants who occupied various parts of the city. Maeve’s struggle to define herself and her values despite the temptations of wealth and bootleg gin is compellingly and compassionately portrayed. This is a journey well worth following.

Kathleen Tessaro is the author of six novels—Elegance, Innocence, The Flirt, The Debutante, The Perfume Collector, and Rare Objects, which will be released on April 12. Harper Collins, her publisher, sent me a copy of Rare Objects with a request for an interview, but because I am booked through July, we agreed that I would write this blog post instead. You can find out more about Kathleen and her books at

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