The Fifth Avenue Artists Society
About This Book
An enthralling Edith Wharton-meets-Little Women debut about a family of four artistic sisters on the outskirts of Gilded Age New York high society that centers on the boldest—an aspiring writer caught between the boy next door and a mysterious novelist who inducts her into Manhattan’s most elite artistic salon.
The Bronx, 1891. Virginia Loftin, the boldest of four artistic sisters in a family living in genteel poverty, knows what she wants most: to become a celebrated novelist despite her gender, and to marry Charlie, the boy next door and her first love.
When Charlie proposes instead to a woman from a wealthy family, Ginny is devastated; shutting out her family, she holes up and turns their story into fiction, obsessively rewriting a better ending. Though she works with newfound intensity, literary success eludes her-until she attends a salon hosted in her brother’s writer friend John Hopper’s Fifth Avenue mansion. Among painters, musicians, actors, and writers, Ginny returns to herself, even blooming under the handsome, enigmatic John’s increasingly romantic attentions.
Just as she and her siblings have become swept up in the society, though, Charlie throws himself back into her path, and Ginny learns that the salon’s bright lights may be obscuring some dark shadows. Torn between two worlds that aren’t quite as she’d imagined them, Ginny will realize how high the stakes are for her family, her writing, and her chance at love.
As anyone who’s followed my reviews known, I’m not a fan of books with only one point-of-view telling the story—even less so if that point-of-view is in first-person—because, more often than not, it feels claustrophobic to me. It forces the author to resort to “telling” in order to explain to the reader things that POV character does not or cannot know, and often makes all the other characters in the story feel one-dimensional.
Joy Callaway’s debut novel, The Fifth Avenue Artists Society, is one of the rare exceptions!
I was thoroughly captivated and swept up in this Gilded Age tale from the very first page, with its decadent blend of innocence and intrigue. As the back cover says, it’s Edith Wharton meets Louisa May Alcott, and that description proved entirely accurate. The heroine, Ginny, was an easy character to root for as she experiences a type of coming-of-age through the loss of her first love and the discovery that she may be able to love again. Callaway did a brilliant job of sucking me into the story emotionally, so that I was enraged, despondent, and hopeful right along with Ginny. Had I not known before reading, nothing in this story would’ve led me to believe it was a debut author. It was that well-written.
Gilded Age New York is not an unfamiliar setting for historical fiction, and while I didn’t feel that Callaway’s presentation was anything original, I do feel it was detailed and accurate. What Callaway brings to her fictional world is authenticity since, it is revealed in the author’s note at the end, the story and characters actually come from her own family tree! Fiction based on real-life people, places and events is my absolute favorite, and in this respect Callaway’s narrative truly shines.
There were really only two downsides to this story for me. First, the romances between Ginny and her suitors often felt too passive-aggressive—characters holding on to grudges or sinking into life-threatening despair when a simple, honest conversation could resolve so much. I also didn’t particularly care for the one she ended up with, nor how they got together… which leads me to my second dislike: the ending. For 90% of the story I was fully ensconced in all the passion and mystery, only to have the last few scenes lapse into a bit too much melodrama that left too many plot points unresolved for my liking. The forty-years-later epilogue that tried to fill in the gaps really left a sour taste in my mouth… until I got to the author’s note that revealed how the story was based on the author’s ancestors, and thus ended the way it did because it was a reflection of what really happened. I can’t tell you what a pick-me-up that was for a history nerd like me!
The Fifth Avenue Artists Society is an emotionally-charged debut novel sure to delight even the pickiest fans of historical fiction and historical romance. Callaway is an author to watch, and I will certainly be on the lookout for more of her novels in the future!
This is a general market novel; as such, conservative readers should be aware it contains some language, mild sensuality and thematic elements.
Available May 31, 2016 from Harper Perennial