Laura Moriarty teaches creative writing at the University of Kansas, but she also has authored four books. I have read them all and can vouch for their quality. Laura’s books are novels, good old-fashioned reads that revolve around life-like characters. You won’t find werewolves or vampires or even shades of gray in her books. You will find interesting characters that portray the slightly stoic, shoulder-to-the-wheel values of the Midwest.
The Chaperone, set in the early 20th century, revolves around the real life Louise Brooks, a famous and somewhat infamous silent screen star, and the chaperone who accompanied her to New York to study dance. The story begins when Louise and chaperone Cora Carlisle leave Wichita from Union Station. The author had me right from the first chapter as the train left the stately train station and eased down the tracks. Having stood on the trestle overlooking Douglas Ave, I had longed to get in the now closed station. But Laura created in words the same busy train station scenes I had seen in my mind there a couple of years ago.
Wichita Union Station in early years.
The sad story of Louise Brooks and her rise to fame followed by a slide into an abyss of sex and alcohol unfolds leaving the reader born between pity and the desire to firmly shake the talented young woman. However, the real story is that of the chaperone. In reality, a chaperone did accompany
Brooks to New York City, but Moriarty creates a fictional one in Cora Carlisle and readers watch as this character grows and develops into woman worth studying. Cora starts in the book as a prim and proper young woman slightly confused on the meaning of family. She, like many of us in our younger years, wears her righteousness as visibly as Madeleine Albright sports rhinestone flag pins on her lapel. By the end of the book her moral guideposts are still strong but are tempered with patience, tolerance and understanding that only years can bring. Watching her evolve and expand in the book is fabulous.
Along a with a story of two interesting characters, the author writes in a way to give readers a glimpse of various socio-economic classes during the time period of the Roaring Twenties and the Depression plus a few years beyond. Orphan trains, Flappers, gay relationships, women’s rights, and birth control are just of the few topics readers will face on the pages. Cora as a chaperone is a young girl herself, one searching for her true roots since she was an orphan. Cora develops into a woman, solid in her beliefs but softened by life that taught her tolerance.
As a writer, I am often afraid of mixing the true and fiction. When I asked Laura how she did it, here is part of her response: I can tell you in a nutshell that everything about Louise is based on fact, and everything about Cora, even her name, is made up. I read Louise's autobiography and her biographies, and sadly, everything about her is true.
While there really was a thirty-six-year-old Wichita housewife who went with Louise to NYC in 1922, her real name was Alice Mills, and I don't know anything about her. Cora is my complete invention.
Maybe I will have the courage someday to write like Laura. In the meantime, I will just read her works. Unfortunately, now I have to wait for the next one to be written!