Addressing the Past

I’ve always found stories of lost families interesting–babies switched at birth, secret famous rich ancestors, that sort of thing. But rarely do those stories have such intrigue as the Camden family in Fiona Davis’s The Address.

Split between 1884-86 and 1985-86 New York, Davis tells the convoluted story of the Camdens: Theo the Gilded Age architect, Minnie his aristocratic wife, Sara Smyth his employee turned lover, his children, and Bailey and Melinda, two “cousins” who claim to be his descendants… or do they? Honestly, it’s complicated and this genealogical journey takes place throughout the novel. Of all those characters (and other non-Camdens, including Nellie Bly!), Sara and Bailey are the focal characters–somewhat similar in aspirations but separated by time.

This mystery novel explores these women’s connections in an artful and intriguing way. But I have to admit, I honestly liked Sara’s 1880s story more compared to Bailey’s 1980s one. Sara is an English housekeeper who becomes the managarette at the Dakota, New York’s hottest new apartment building (and the location of John Lennon’s death a century later). During her time in New York, she falls in love with Theo Camden, one of the building’s architects, as a self-proclaimed romance lover, their little plotline was one of my favorites, and surprisingly so distracting from some of the other plot points–which works out pretty well considering the structure of the overall book, more on that later.

Meanwhile, Bailey is a recently reformed alcoholic whose only saving grace is her “cousin” Melinda Camden–they’re only technical cousins by name, not blood–who gives her the opportunity to remodel her apartment at the Dakota. While remodeling the historic place to a postmodern-80’s aesthetic, Bailey uncovers bits of the past, including about Theo Camden’s 1885 murder in the very apartment she’s re-vamping!

It’s a fast-paced and entertaining read, I could barely put it down. However, like I said, I was more excited to read about Sara’s story than Bailey’s. I found Bailey to be just a tad sad–I get that as a recovering alcoholic who’s broke, she has a lot on her plate in terms of figuring out her life. But I just thought her character was a little weak and just not that interesting. Sara, in contrast fulfills the requirement for your basic upward movement through society story, but she also has a more dramatic one. For example, she begins a passionate (and blinding) love affair, is sent to the infamous Blackwell Asylum (see Nellie Bly again), is accused and found guilty of murder!

So, back to the book’s structure really quick, even though I was slightly more bored reading Bailey’s half of the story, her research gave insights into bits of Sara’s…almost like spoilers within the book itself. Additionally, since so much of Sara’s story focuses on her relationship with Theo, Bailey’s part does help provide a little of pre-context to the drama Sara’s really getting herself into, which I thought was an excellent way to provide entertainment and actually pull the plot together. However, reading Sara’s story and how it was lost was sort of painful because there were parts of it that Bailey would just never know, so while Bailey does excellent detective work to find out who she is, she still doesn’t have the whole story!

Other than my slight boredom with Bailey’s part in the novel, I don’t have any complaints. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it only took me a few days to finish it. The characters were developed and the plot enjoyable. If you like “mysteries,” in my opinion, it’s really more just a drama, I think you’d really enjoy the book.

That’s all I have for this week–here’s the part of the blog where I put the link so you can send me book recommendations. I didn’t receive any for my next post, but look out for it next week! I’ll be reading Heddi Goodrich’s Lost in the Spanish Quarter!

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