Friday, September 9, 2011

THE AMERICAN HEIRESS

Review of THE AMERICAN HEIRESS by DAISY GOODWIN

(review based on an advance reading copy)


This historical novel explores the extravagances and chains of vast wealth in the Gilded Age. The luxuries and indulgences, such as gold-painted hummingbirds, serve as atmospheric story decoration, but the heart of the tale lies in young Cora Cash. With seemingly limitless money and her mother’s determination to buy Cora a title through marriage, one might wonder what the girl lacks. While for the most part Cora contents herself with a wasteful life, most of her relationships function without any sincere affection or open communication.


The story focuses primarily on romantic relationships, though those shown less attention are still equally intriguing. At the start of the novel, Cora begs her childhood friend Teddy to marry her and whisk her away from an empty life. He rejects her for his artistic passion and moves to Paris to paint. As her mother hoped, Cora does find that title match. Better yet for Cora, she actually loves the man, but paradise turns grey when Cora unearths hint after hint that her husband may not deserve her unconditional love.


The book didn’t captivate my attention throughout, but I often found myself surprised by how invested I was in the characters. Whenever big moments sprouted up, I empathized with circumstance’s latest victim and wished I could reach in and help them. The focus wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be, though, which probably explains my slight detachment. About midway through, I expect most readers will foresee the proverbial can of worms. As for me, I was most interested in what happens after the can is opened, but the can just sits on the table until we’re near the end when, as expected, it finally explodes. Though I did enjoy the ending, I was a little disappointed by how easily everyone collected the worms and stuffed them back in the can. Everyone steps forward with some exposition heavy dialogue to reveal their piece of the story. Though we find out for certain who can be trusted and who cannot, I wanted to follow the characters longer and witness the fallout from so much mistrust in relationships.


Though Cora is likable and relatable, I felt a stronger tie to her maid Bertha. Cora isn’t cruel or abusive to Bertha, but neither does she treat her maid with the respect she deserves. Bertha has her own love story, one that, though problematic, still holds more promise for happiness than Cora’s. Despite her mistress’s spoiled expectations, Bertha recognizes that Cora has no true friends and thus feels a duty to be that one eternally loyal person in Cora’s life. Bertha’s sacrifices for someone who gives so little back threaten to destroy her own romance.


At times, the comma usage in this book pulled me from the story. There seem to be commas where they shouldn’t be on almost every page. Many sentences are linked together with a comma where a period should be. I did read an ARC, so I hope any grammar errors will be fixed, but the frequency suggests a grammatically rebellious writing style that, unfortunately, I found distracting.


This wasn’t a book that blotted out the real world, but it was one that left me thinking and one that forced me to feel at all the pivotal moments. The story tackles such big themes that it can barely scratch the surface of the issues: money, class, and trust. When all actions are motivated by the first two, it’s near impossible to find any of the third.

2 comments:

  1. I initially picked up this book because the cover had a comment on it essentially saying if you like the show "Downtown Abbey" then you should read this book. Upon reading it, I did see how that connection could be made however the story is lacking the same all-around fun, heartwarming characters of the show. I interpreted the end differently than Rachel and was left wondering who on earth actually could be trusted as several characters still seemed suspect to me, so if the author intended to sweep everything back under the rug it ultimately came across as way too convenient.

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  2. Whether you believe everyone is telling the truth or not, the tragedy of this story is the lack of trust. If the sense of uncertainty readers feel at the end of the book is uncomfortable, imagine what it must be like for the protagonist Cora - forever wondering if everything was a little too neatly explained and if she's naive for eagerly accepting more lies.

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