The Chaperone opens with a sweet, 1920′s-era housewife volunteering to chaperone a young, headstrong and beautiful dancer from Wichita to several months of prestigious dance classes in New York City. As the story unfolds we learn that there is more to our characters: Cora, our matronly chaperone, is an orphan who was married as a teenager to a man with a terrible secret, and Louise, the young ambitious dancer, is an unloved and unloving child who has been abused, neglected and misunderstood for most of her life.
The thing I liked about this book is that it is a well-told, interesting take on a period of history that doesn’t get a lot of press. It wasn’t a time of war, or civil rights, or suffrage, or cultural upheaval, and yet many of the effects of the policies and ideals of that age still resonate in our time.
What I didn’t like was how the book was a thinly-veiled covering for the author’s cultural and political opinions, and the debate was framed in the classic “if-you-disagree-you’re-fuddy-duddy-or-worse-a-bigot” line of reasoning which our liberal friends so love to use.
To continue, there be spoilers:
The logical leaps are obvious: Cora’s friend thinks about joining the Klan and Cora herself is surprised and aghast at an all-black-casted musical she and Louise attend – however, she comes around and tells her grandchildren how proud she was to be a part of it. Obviously, this means that her still-in-the-closet gay husband and his wanna-be partner should not have been afraid to let their love fly for all to see. Because skin color and behavior are the same thing, obvi. Our buttoned-up conservative Cora is also amazed and shocked by the short skirts and revealing clothing of the dancers on stage – she believes in modest hemlines and corsets. Of course, eventually, on this too she comes around, and the obvious next step is to elevate Margaret Sanger’s then-revolutionary birth control philosophy, waxing eloquent on how we used to hide our girls in ankle-length dresses and societal mores, now they should have free safe sex and not be ashamed of their va-jay-jays, doncha know. These kinds of unreasonable leaps take place throughout the book and are unsurprising: this is all typical liberal drivel, not particularly artful or creative, but what was interesting to me was the places the story did not go, revealing how dependent the author is on the very societal opinions she pretends to lampoon.
After all, it’s soon revealed at beautiful, devil-may-care Louise was sexually abused as a young girl, and Cora is rightfully indignant on her behalf, although Louise asserts that she has taken control of her sexuality and that it shouldn’t be a big deal to anyone what she does with her body. Sound familiar? We are coached by the author into feeling some pity or angst over the trials of a nine-year-old girl, lured into a predator’s home, and yet she reacts with a now-familiar talking point and we find ourselves wondering what the point of this plot twist is: are we supposed to accept the sexualization of children? Is everyone who demanded that Jerry Sandusky be brought to justice simply not enlightened enough? Moriarty doesn’t make that leap, but it seems a logical one to me, given the other values she is eager to tear down and erect modern groupthink in their place.
Even later, as we see Cora’s illicit love affair with Joseph begin, we sense that it’s all OK, because after all, she and her husband are both having affairs and everybody could wind up in jail for “lewd cohabitation” and they are just making do in a constricted society – loving whom they must. If that is the case, then why are we indignant over Louise’s childhood rapist? Why do we feel bad for Floyd Smithers, the lunch-counter college boy, and his desire to take Louise out for a proper date, only to wind up used by her? She is loving who she must, and using whoever gets in her way. There is no right or wrong, we cannot say that she shouldn’t be cruel to Cora or dismissive to Floyd or abort or abandon any number of her children, should she become pregnant from her rampant filanderings.
No, no, judgment is the greatest evil in The Chaperone. Those old ladies who fear for the virtue of their hometown because of the condoms on the drugstore counter are laughed at, the men who cheat on their wives with another man are venerated for their bravery and inherent “goodness”, treated with compassion because society did not laud their lifestyle then as it does now. The author is a slave to modern beliefs – rather than actually saying something of true value and courage, she uses the issues of a bygone day to disparage an already beleagured and much-maligned conservative minority, to the applause of her fellows and the entertainment of the thoughtless masses who read her work and are taken in by the engaging characters instead of the culture-shaping ideas behind them.
I know I’ll get comments calling me a racist chauvinist for this review – but that’s to be expected. After all, massive leaps of logic are common to leftist reasoning, and my unwillingness to give up my moral standards is more than enough to send anyone who disagrees with me into a name-calling frenzy. Unfortunately, The Chaperone does not actually embrace the logical end of it’s own views – an act of cowardice that proves how uninventive and unjust this common groupthink really is.
I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review but all opinions expressed are my own.