Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Atria Books
Pub. Date: March 5, 2019
This novel, set in the 1830s, has all the makings of great storytelling. You will read much about Tammany Hall (the name given to the notoriously corrupt Democratic political machine that dominated New York City politics during the 19th century. You will meet Maire O’Farrell and her twin brother Seanin. They are from Ireland and fresh off a boat that landed them in the poverty-stricken area known as The Five Points. You might know of the infamous Five Points from the book or the movie “Gangs of New York.” The Points was a 19th-century neighborhood located in Lower East Manhattan that included Mulberry Street. Back then, Mulberry Street (historically associated with Italian-American culture, where the Mafia blossomed and made the street a household name) was filled with Irish rather than Italian immigrants. If interested, nowadays it is Chinese immigrants who walk Mulberry streets. On the other side of town is Washington Square, which was and still is a very wealthy area. These families hired cheap labor from the nearby tenements. This is how the twins end up working as servants in a Washington Square home. Mary becomes a lady’s maid to beautiful Charlotte Walden, the belle of New York City’s high society. Seanin, when not busy becoming the leader of an Irish gang, works as a stable groom for Charlotte’s favorite horse. Both brother and sister fall in love with the mistress of the house. I am not giving anything away. All of this is described in the book’s blurb. Are you in yet? I was. So why was I disappointed in the novel?
You must get by now that “Parting Glass” has a strong feel of “Upstairs/Downstairs,” where “Downtown Abbey” meets the “Gangs of New York.” For this reviewer, the tale should have been a captivating read. There is love, tragedy, and a good dose of Mulberry St. A neighborhood I used to live in. The storylines didn’t feel properly linked together. By day, Mary is prim and proper. By night, she is getting drunk with gang members and slapped around (have no fear, Mary gives as good as she gets) in an Irish pub. I find it far-fetched that her secret nightlife could be as well hidden from her day life as presented in the book. I also had a hard time buying that Mary’s sexuality was as accepted by all as the author writes, especially by the male gang members. Personally, I wish that was true. But sadly if I am not mistaken, there was not a thriving gay scene in the Lower East Side for more than a century later. It is clear that Guadagnino did her research on the history of violence in The Five Points. This makes it all the more confusing that she depicts a casually accepted gay woman in this setting. I think the author was attempting to emulate Sarah Waters’ erotic thriller “The Paying Guests,” or Waters’ “Fingersmith,” a historical crime novel. Both books are set in the Victorian era. Both books are page-turners that include lesbian love affairs. Guadagnino, like Waters, does a great job of writing intelligently on what in present time is known as “love is love.” I applaud the author on this. The uneven storylines are where I take issue. I think a good editor could have made this book a far better read than it is.
I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.
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