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A Certain Age


A Certain Age

I first discovered Beatriz Williams with her 2012 book, OVERSEAS. After that, I was swept up in her trilogy about the Schuyler sisters: THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT, TINY LITTLE THING and ALONG THE INFINITE SEA.

What I love is how she weaves historical details into her work; here, in A CERTAIN AGE, she makes New York in the Roaring Twenties come alive. There’s romance, intrigue and gossip. Mrs. Theresa Marshall (and, yes, the Mrs. in her name is an important note to her status) has homes on Fifth Avenue and in tony Southampton, New York. Her husband, Sylvo, is known to have a wandering eye, which is something that Theresa tolerates so long as she can keep her status and position. She sees herself as the one with whom Sylvo makes his homes.

Theresa’s life is upended when she finds herself attracted to Captain Octavian Rofrano, a handsome aviator who fought in the Great War. He is smitten with her, and their affair takes flight with Theresa throwing all caution to the wind to charm her young lover. But to her, Octavian is a dalliance; to him, she is his future. She clearly wants the safety of her marriage and the unabashed fun of her wild life with Octavian.

"A CERTAIN AGE was a wonderful summer Sunday read that I read briskly and will remember fondly."

However, Theresa’s joyful interlude takes a turn when Octavian is asked by her brother, Ox, to play the role of “a cavalier” to present a family heirloom engagement ring to young Sophie Fortescue. There’s a spark between Octavian and Sophie, and quickly Theresa feels threatened by Sophie’s youth --- her unlined hands and unencumbered world. As Octavian shows his attraction to her, Theresa is determined to move Sophie’s marriage plans along as swiftly as she can, trying as she always has to move the pieces across the chessboard. But this time, her sleight-of-hand moves are being thwarted.

There is a secret to be unwrapped, one that Octavian delivers on like a true hero and that upends the players even more. And from there, things become much more complicated. Woven between the chapters is a trial, the play-by-play of which is being narrated by a columnist with the amusing name of Patty Cake.

I loved reading about New York in the Roaring Twenties. I was very much amused by the descriptions of traffic that seem to mirror the way life in the city is today. No one could ever get downtown or uptown quickly enough. The speakeasies, Prohibition and the social mores of the day are all played out on these pages. Beatriz dedicates this novel to Greenwich, Connecticut, which is portrayed here as a weekend escape for the wealthy. It’s years away from becoming the bedroom community that we know it to be today.

I have read that Richard Strauss’ comic opera Der Rosenkavalier was the inspiration for A CERTAIN AGE. I confess to having no knowledge of this work to evaluate if Beatriz’s latest stood up to the interpretation. I will leave that to other readers.

A CERTAIN AGE was a wonderful summer Sunday read that I read briskly and will remember fondly.

Reviewed by Carol Fitzgerald on June 28, 2016

A Certain Age
by Beatriz Williams