*Requisite spoiler warning.
I love old houses for the stories they seem to hold, particularly places where it seems as though the owners have just picked up and left. I love generational sagas too, the types of stories where you see how the family stories intertwine and get to trace characters growing up, disappearing and reappearing and making you gasp, “Oh, so that’s what happened to him!” So the collaborative novel from Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig, The Forgotten Room, looked to be right up my alley.
The Forgotten Room follows three different women in New York City in three different times: Olive in 1892, Lucy in 1920, and Kate in 1944. They all come to the same building, an old mansion (well, new in Olive’s time, a hospital in Kate’s) searching for answers about what happened to their family. And they all meet men, whose connections to the Pratt mansion run equally deep. Each new couple delves a little bit deeper into the mystery of the previous generation, which the authors handle well – the reader knows more than the characters do, but never enough to completely solve the puzzle until all is unveiled at the proper moment.
I also saw a certain amount of developing feminism in each of the women’s experiences. Having recently lost her father, Olive pushes back against the strictures of 1890s society with her reluctance to marry the first man who comes along. She prioritizes finding the truth about her father’s death over her mother’s expectations, which is a small battle but a significant one for her time. Lucy makes further steps with her refusal to become the secretary who sleeps with her boss, even going so far as to turn him down flat in a speakeasy. Even more than Olive, Lucy insists on moving forward on her own terms, whether romantically or careerwise.
Kate’s struggle with blatant workplace misogyny and sexual harassment is the most obvious instance of feminism in the novel. Her male supervisor not only sneers at the idea of a female doctor, but regularly undermines her treatment of her patients – when he’s not trying to get her alone in the storage closet. Frankly, it was this battle against sexism, particularly when a young nurse looked to Kate as an ally and role model, that interested me more than any romantic entanglements. That was where the novel fell short for me: these women had their own original motivations and desires, but that independence was quickly thrown out when they met The Man in their respective stories. Though the ending(s) were cute enough, it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for.
Still, the parallel stories and the building tension as the generational mystery continued were intriguing enough to give this 4/5 stars on Goodreads.
It is a challenge for any writer to sculpt in full an adventurous, smart, edgy woman who, when she meets Him, remains just that. It is not infrequently that I get a sense that the woman, upon entering the relationship “drops her pack” – not that she becomes “the little woman” but that she no longer feels responsible for her own independence. The roles and missions of each party to a relationship need to be more openly negotiated and discussed than fallen into comfortably, because a healthy relationship of equals is often not comfortable.
When I was young and dating I hated it when I would ask where my date wanted to go to dinner, which movie, what hike, etc and the reply was “Whatever you want”, because if all we were going to do was what I already knew and was comfortable with what was the point of the relationship?.
Among the many tings that are wonderful about you are your fierce intelligence, your wide range of interests, and your willingness to speak what you think. Keep those attributes sharp and well oiled from use – they will get you into trouble occasionally but they will keep you, as you are now, a woman in full.
I think writers often go too far in representing the sacrifices necessary in any relationship and make it so that sacrificing *anything* means sacrificing *all.* A healthy relationship with the Right Person will actually push the woman to continue pursuing her dream (like how the Engineer constantly pesters me to finish my book, but in a good way). I’m all for romance in novels, but I wish more of them stayed away from having the heroine prove! her! love! by giving up the independence that had meant so much to her up to that point.
Thank you for your commentary and your compliments 🙂 I shall certainly try not to “drop my pack” as the Engineer and I move forward.