Review: Our Kind of People, by Carol Wallace

OVERVIEW

book cover

Fans of Bridgerton will love this “exuberant novel of manners for our own gilded age” (Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra) as we follow the Wilcox family’s journey through riches and ruin.

Among New York City’s Gilded Age elite, one family will defy convention.

Helen Wilcox has one desire: to successfully launch her daughters into society. From the upper crust herself, Helen’s unconventional–if happy–marriage has made the girls’ social position precarious. Then her husband gambles the family fortunes on an elevated railroad that he claims will transform the face of the city and the way the people of New York live, but will it ruin the Wilcoxes first? As daughters Jemima and Alice navigate the rise and fall of their family–each is forced to re-examine who she is, and even who she is meant to love.

From the author of To Marry an English Lord, an inspiration for Downton Abbey, comes a charming and cutthroat tale of a world in which an invitation or an avoided glance can be the difference between fortune and ruin.

MY REVIEW

Disclaimer: Although I received an electronic Uncorrected Proof of this book from the publisher, the opinions below are my own.

My late grandmother and her mother were, for want of a better term, snobs. They had a phrase which was passed down to my mother and I: NOCD. “Not our class, dear.” They perceived themselves as being better than those to whom they applied this term, even when they had more in common than they were willing to admit. Reading Our Kind of People reminded me often of this phrase. Because, to some elements of New York society in this novel, the Wilcox family is NOCD.

There are so many angles to the storyline. Yes, on the surface, it’s about a mother’s plans for her daughters. But there’s also a deeper element about deciding whether to fit in with society’s expectations. A neighbor is considered less than respectable because of his ostentatious lifestyle. An older gentleman is a Civil War veteran who survived amputation and is now a widow raising a young child. Helen’s husband, Joshua, didn’t come from money and that’s reason enough for certain society doyennes to give her the cut. There’s a scene where Joshua makes a huge – and very risky – financial decision. My heart sunk as I read it because I could already see the outcome. To tell you what happens after would be a massive spoiler, but it does force Helen to make some massive decisions about her daughters’ debuts, and the rivalry which ensues is reminiscent of the real-life Astor-Vanderbilt rivalry.

This is a great work of fiction set during the Gilded Age. It’s set shortly after the Panic of 1873 and includes flashbacks to the antebellum era. It portrays relationships between the different generations, and how opinions could be shaped and changed. There’s a variety of characters, from both the upstairs and downstairs populations of a Gilded Age home. Some chapters are short and feel like vignettes; interludes that make points about society. Those make for ideal stopping points and contribute to the ease of reading.

As for the ending, I definitely don’t want to tell you about it because it would give away a large part of the plot. Suffice to say, it’s a great payout.

RATING

5/5

BOOK INFORMATION

Publisher: GP Putnam’s Sons (an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC)

Publication Date: 11 January 2022

Book Information

Excerpt

CAROL DAVIS

author bio

Carol Wallace has written more than twenty books, including the New York Times bestseller To Marry an English Lord, which was an inspiration for Downton Abbey. She is also the author of an historical novel, Leaving Van Gogh, and a co-author of The Official Preppy Handbook. Wallace holds degrees from Princeton University and Columbia University, and is the great-great-granddaughter of Lew Wallace, author of the novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, which was first published in 1880. She currently lives in New York, New York.

Visit Carol Wallace’s website

THE SETTING

Woman in costume

The rivalry in Our Kind of People is loosely based on that between Caroline Astor and Alva Vanderbilt (pictured above). Caroline Astor, known as The Mrs Astor, was descended from New York’s Dutch aristocracy and was considered the authority on New York City society. She felt the Vanderbilt family was beneath her notice, since they made their money rather than inheriting. This changed, however, when Alva Vanderbilt invited 750 guests in 1893 to a costume ball but intentionally didn’t invite Carrie Astor. Caroline was forced to ‘acknowledge’ the Astor family in order for her daughter to receive an invite to the event of the year.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.