Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Fine Imitation

Title:  A Fine Imitation
Author:  Amber Brock
Publication Information:  Crown. 2016. 306 pages.
ISBN:  1101905115 / 978-1101905111

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "If she had to guess, Vera Longacre would say that most of the girls at Vassar College knew her name and could pick her out of a crowd, even if she could not do the same for them."

Favorite Quote:  "Art is ... it's like a window into someone's head. The only chance we have to really see the world through someone else's eyes. A glimpse of another time, another place. A taste of another life, in the past..."

Vera Bellington is a beautiful bird in a gilded cage. She always has been. She is part of the class of the wealthy that is the elite even within the wealthy. Vera plays the part well; she always has.

The book introduces the reader to Vera at two points in her life - the 1920s when she is married and living in the city and a decade earlier when she is a senior at Vassar. The book tells the story of both time periods in alternating chapters.

At Vassar, a college education is a placeholder waiting for the marriage proposal. In the present, Vera lunches with the ladies and serves on charity boards. She has a maid, a chauffeur, a butler, and others to take care of every practicality of life. She lives in a penthouse of a building her husband designed, built, and owns. Arthur and Vera Bellington are "that kind of rich," and Vera's parents, the Longacres, are even richer and have the old money name.

In the middle of all this opulence, Vera is desperately unhappy for her entire life is playing a role, with no self-determination. Her mother watches her every move, and Vera never veers far from the the line she is expected to toe. Her husband Arthur is consumed by his business and other interests; he, for the most part, ignores Vera except when necessary.

Then, at Vassar, Bea Stillman, an irreverent new friend, and the "Yale boys" enter the picture. In the present, artist Emil Hallan comes into Vera's life. A beautiful woman. A life of wealth. Constraints of family and society. A woman straining against the bars of her gilded cage. The introduction of characters who shake that solid foundation and the reliance on ritual and expectations. Can you see where this is going?

The plot of the book also involves the art world and the mystery surrounding the provenance of works. However, to me, that is a small piece of the book. The primary setting of the book is the lifestyle of the rich and famous in the roaring twenties. However, that opulent, vibrant setting also seems a small piece of this book.

This book is completely Vera's story, and it remains true to that narrow focus throughout. Therein lies the main issue with the book. Vera is the same whether as a married woman in the 1920s or a college student a decade earlier. She is still constrained by the need to adhere to societal rules and her mother's domineering edicts. Nothing changes. No growth seems to occur between the two time periods. Yes, society's rules are harsh, and the pressure to conform is immense. Yes, a mother's opinion and approval always matter. However, as a young woman grows and matures, you would expect some change in approach or behavior. I feel sorry for her up to a point, but after a while, I just find her frustrating as Vera in college and Vera as a married lady of society both sound the same.

Predictable? Yes. Entertaining and a quick read? Yes similar to The Light of Paris and The Atomic Weight of Love in that story line of a woman looking to live her own life despite what society or family may require.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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