“We all have our own magnificent prisons, even the queen, I’d venture.”
I love how fitting this quote is for both narrators in The Address. Each woman, separated by a hundred years, is trapped in a prison unique to them.
Sara, a woman in the 1880’s, running a hotel in England before being hired to run a new Apartment building in America is prisoner to the edicts of her time. A woman can only do so much, say so much, and really, are quite powerless in a male dominated society. Not quite nobility, yet not quite working class, she isn’t sure where she fits and only wants to find her way.
“Her mother had done her a disservice, constantly reminding her of her blood connection to nobody, while at the same time cursing her bastardy. She didn’t know where she belonged.”
Bailey, living in the 1980’s, isn’t as constrained by society as Sara once was, but finds herself in a prison nonetheless. Hers are more self imposed though, the bars made up of the drugs and alcohol she is addicted to. Bailey is also trying to find her way, wanting to know who she is and where she comes from, since her familial past has always been shrouded in mystery.
There is quite a bit to enjoy in this novel. First, historical novels are always a favorite of mine to get lost in, especially one as rich as detailed as the one Davis creates. It isn’t just the time and place that we get a sense of, but also, how difficult it was to simply be a woman. Sara, no matter how successful she is, continues to find herself at the mercy of men. The pieces focused on the asylum are chilling but again, convey a realistic sense of injustice women faced constantly.
Sara and Bailey are connected to each other, though neither knows it. Bailey unravels the mystery of the Dakota and her great-grandfathers murder, while Sara gives us the added details leading up to the murder. This is something else I love in novels. When we get to see a mystery from multiple perspectives, each chapter giving us another sliver, another glimpse, each section strategic in it’s reveal.
I quite enjoy when novels intertwine stories like this. At the beginning we think we know the story. We have the answer, and are simply filling in the details. Except, as the story proceeds, more questions emerge. It’s fascinating to me, because I think this is how history happens. We think we know answers. We think we know the facts. But just because a narrative fits, it doesn’t mean it’s the truth.
Using the Gilded Age was also brilliant. There is underlying discussion on things we desire. Sometimes we want what we can’t have. But we also tend to glamorize those things. Think that they are better and more perfect, than perhaps they really are. Sara wants Theo to be her partner, her husband, her everything. She sees his wife as cold and distant, unappreciative of what she has. Bailey wants to belong by blood, not just name, to the Camden family. She sees her cousin Melinda as spoiled and shallow. Each wants what they don’t have, focused so intently on what they’re missing, perhaps they don’t see what they have in front of them.
“You know, I never really thought about the fact that it was called the Gilded Age, as opposed to say, the Golden Age. That the era was all about money and the illusion of success, as opposed to offering anything truly valuable. Reminds me of New York City these days, to be honest with you.”
So much of the Gilded Age was seen as shiny on the surface, yet harsh underneath. A pretty exterior to cover the plainness below. And so much of the plot fits that description. The surface shows one thing, while hidden beneath is where the truth lies.
Theo, it turns out isn’t quite all that he seems. And neither is his wife. These lies and manipulations unfold leaving Sara to make a quick decision that impacts everyone far into the future. This one decision, her choice, impacts Bailey profoundly.
Anyone trying to uncover the hidden truths of the past will struggle with never actually knowing the entire truth. We can only see what is left to us, and decipher these clues as best we can. Sometimes we may get close, other times the truth is nothing near what we could ever have guessed. And I love it when authors are able to give us a story that shows this struggle.
Davis is able to give us a sense of both the 1880’s and the 1980’s. Times both known for excess in New York, yet she gives us the perspective of women trying to fit into those worlds. We see the dark side of the city, the pieces that these times would want us to overlook and forget. There is an allure to success, but there is also always a cost.
I also really liked how Davis used the idea of legacy. The important families in the 1880’s were defined by their legacies. It was often the most important thing to them. What people would think, who would carry their names forward and what history would say about them. By the 1980’s, many of the families in Sara’s time have died out, or faded into obscurity. Buildings have changed, the city has changed, the legacy isn’t what their ancestors dreamed.
Bailey wants to find her history, even though her personal legacy is embroiled in bitterness and anger. Her father wants nothing to do with the Camden’s, believing his grandfather was shunned and rejected. The legacy of even the building, The Dakota, changes over time. In Bailey’s time it is in the midst of evermore change as the shooting of Lennon has once again marked it’s exterior.
This book is an excellent examination of women’s role in society. Their power and powerlessness, both in equal measure. It’s a look at what we want, and what happens when we get it. Can women be passionate without being insane? Can we be successful without losing ourselves? What are we willing to lose to keep the ones we love safe? How far will we go for that love?
The Address shows how strong women have been throughout history. It gives brilliant insight into the roles of women versus men, rich versus poor, and the lengths we go to for love.
This book goes on sale August 1.
Thank you to Penguin Random House, Dutton Books and the First To Read program for giving me an early copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.