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Love and Other Consolation Prizes

Review

Love and Other Consolation Prizes

It’s not too much of a stretch to say that author Jamie Ford has put historical Seattle on the literary map. In previous novels HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET and SONGS OF WILLOW FROST, Ford has taken people back to World War II-era and Depression-era Seattle, respectively. In both cases, he has explored the lives and legacies of the Asian immigrants who made their homes in this American city. Now he adds a new chapter to this exploration, with LOVE AND OTHER CONSOLATION PRIZES.

The action in Ford’s latest novel is bookended by two World’s Fairs held in Seattle --- the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition and the 1962 Century 21 Exposition (the one that brought us the iconic Space Needle). At the center of his narrative are three people whose lives are changed irrevocably by the AYP fair in 1909. Yung, the young son of a Chinese woman and a white missionary, is sent to the United States by his impoverished single mother early in the 20th century. By a twist of fate, he escapes the gruesome fate of many of his shipmates and finds himself renamed Ernest, living in an orphanage run by a sanctimonious activist, Mrs. Irvine. During the 1909 fair, when Ernest is 12 years old, Mrs. Irvine decides to stage a publicity stunt in conjunction with President Taft’s visit to the fair, raffling the boy off as a son --- or servant --- to the lucky winner.

"Jamie Ford is a skillful storyteller... [H]is latest also shares its predecessor’s cinematic descriptions and vivid evocations of a Seattle most readers probably didn’t know anything about."

But imagine Mrs. Irvine’s horror when the winning bidder is none other than Madame Flora, the famous madam of the most celebrated brothel in all of Seattle’s quite extensive red light district. Madame Flora hires Ernest to be a houseboy (and eventually her driver). Ernest is immediately entranced by the glamorous house over which Madame Flora presides, the glittering parties and, of course, the beautiful women. But most of all, he becomes intrigued by two girls who are a little older than himself (they are not the “upstairs girls” who entertain men). One is Fahn, a Japanese girl who coincidentally traveled to Seattle on the same ship as Ernest himself. The other is Maisie, known as Madame Flora’s little sister but in actuality is her daughter. The two very different girls are friends, and Ernest is fascinated by --- and soon besotted with --- both of them.

Scenes from Ernest’s youth are interspersed with scenes of him in 1962. Now a senior citizen, he is dealing with his wife’s dementia and with his journalist daughter’s desire to write a story about him in conjunction with the new World’s Fair. Naturally, her inquiries dredge up memories of the past, some of which he would just as soon forget. But perhaps his memories can help prompt his wife to remember as well --- even if those memories might be painful for them both.

Jamie Ford is a skillful storyteller, and if at times the events of LOVE AND OTHER CONSOLATION PRIZES rely a little too heavily on coincidence, those coincidences work in service to the story. His debut novel, HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, is currently under development as a motion picture, and his latest also shares its predecessor’s cinematic descriptions and vivid evocations of a Seattle most readers probably didn’t know anything about.

Readers should be sure to peruse Ford’s afterword, in which he explains the historical roots of his inspiration and gives suggestions for further reading. His books offer the very best kind of historical fiction, with accounts that not only bring to life specific stories from the past but also excite readers’ imaginations and enthusiasm for the boundless possibilities of historical inquiry.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 14, 2017

Love and Other Consolation Prizes
by Jamie Ford

  • Publication Date: September 12, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0804176752
  • ISBN-13: 9780804176750