One beautiful thing about reading is the travel it allows. Through books, you can visit other times, places, or even dimensions.
In The Chaperone, Laura Moriarty takes us to the far reaches of Douglas Avenue, Winfield, McPherson and New York City.
Laura Moriarty’s first three books were set in Kansas towns, all based on times and places she actually lived. With her latest book she takes a leap backward to 1922 Wichita when soon-to-be silent film star Louise Brooks was 15 years old and heading off to New York City for the first time.
When you look at the bibliography in the back of the book, it’s obvious that much is known about Louise Brooks. So it’s through the chaperone’s eyes—36-year-old Cora Carlisle—that Moriarty weaves her literary magic.
Through chapters alternating from past memories to current happenings, we piece together the story of Cora’s life: From her earliest memories of doing laundry at the Home for Friendless Girls in New York, to being placed on the orphan train and adopted by a couple in McPherson.
So, 20 years later, Cora is married to a handsome, wealthy attorney, has college-age boys, and is living a seemingly perfect life in Wichita. Yet persistent questions of her past cue her to enlist as chaperone for this headstrong girl, and another train takes them to the promises and potential of New York City.
Even after Cora discovers her history and returns to Wichita without Brooks, the story doesn’t end. It continues for nearly 60 years, and Wichita’s history—through the Klan, the dust bowl, the lunch counter sit-in at Dockum Drugstore, and Louise’s comings and goings—is beautifully recounted through the eyes of this undaunted woman.
This commentary originally ran on June 4, 2012. The Chaperone will be released in paperback on June 4, 2013.