New York City, 2016: Journalist Rose Lewin overhears music on a record player from the apartment below.
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“. . . a compelling tale that entwines the different worlds of women then and now.”
Intrigued by the two singers’ raw talent, she investigates her downstairs neighbor Darby McLaughlin and stumbles upon a story that begins in 1952. The Barbizon then was no mere condo but a women’s hotel, a shelter from which young women could venture forth into New York City in search of their fortunes. For most this meant catching a good man to marry and settle down with, but not every young woman who passed through the Barbizon’s doors was willing to go that route. Rose discovers Darby was one such.
A student at the prestigious Katherine Gibbs Secretarial Academy, Darby was a stereotypical Midwestern girl. Teased mercilessly by the model agency girls she’s forced to share a corridor with, Darby makes friends with Barbizon maid Esme Castillo. Esme is erratic, passionate and, Darby suspects, up to no good. Esme introduces Darby to the jazz scene in a smoky den called the Flatted Fifth club. Darby’s heart soon picks up the beat of the decadent bebop jazz – a beat that grows stronger when she meets the club’s cook, Sam Buckley.
Rose’s relationship with an up-and-coming politician disintegrates. She’s forced to resort to subterfuge in search of her story, and her job at a start-up media company isn’t secure. As her research uncovers more about the elusive Darby McLaughlin, Rose wonders if she’s projecting her own situation upon the older woman. Rose and Darby’s worlds collide when Rose uncovers the truth about a tragedy that struck the Barbizon on Halloween, 1952 – and wonders if her own life will ever be the same.
In The Dollhouse, Rose and Darby are strong, independent characters the reader can empathize with. Davis skillfully weaves a compelling tale that entwines the different worlds of women then and now.
Reviewer: Cindy A. Matthews