Thursday, December 14, 2017

Love and Other Consolation Prizes

Title:  Love and Other Consolation Prizes
Author:  Jamie Ford
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2017. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0804176752 / 978-0804176750

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Ernest Young stodd outside the gates on opening day of the new world's fair, loitering in the shadow of the futre."

Favorite Quote:  "We all have things we don't talk about ... Even though, more often than not, those are the things that make us who we are."

Love and Other Consolation Prizes is a love set in the middle of the red light district of Seattle in the early 1900s amidst the glitz and fanfare of the Alaska Yukon Pacific (AYK) Exposition. It is a love story of teenagers forced by circumstance to grow up and live adult lives well before their age warranted. It is a love story that lasts over fifty years until the next Seattle World Fair. Exactly whose love story is the question that remains unanswered until close to the end of the book.

Ernest Young is born into poverty in China. His mother obtains him passage to the United States when he is twelve in the hopes of a better life for him. His journey leads him to an orphanage and a workhouse. It leads him to the be a prize raffled off at the World's Fair. Yes, a human boy becomes a raffle prize. This horrifying circumstance leads him to the brothels of Seattle and sets the course of his remaining life for as a houseboy in a brothel, he finds friendship and love. Fahn is young woman working as a housemaid in the brothel. Maisie is the Madam's daughter. The three are close in age and form a trio of friends.

Fast forward fifty years. Ernest is an old man living a quiet life. His two daughters are living their lives - one as a journalist and one as a dancer in Las Vegas. His wife suffers from dementia-like symptoms and has fading memories of her life with Ernest.

His daughter discovers the story of Ernest's childhood and the raffle and wants to investigate and learn more. This sets Ernest down memory lane. Through past and present, the story of Ernest, Maisie, and Fahn is revealed. Around it is built the colorful world of Seattle and the World's Fair.

As with Jamie Ford's other books (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Songs of Willow Frost, this book pays homage to his ancestry and the Asian American experience. All three books begin in Seattle which is where Jamie Ford grew up. Songs of Willow Frost also begins with a young boy growing up in an orphanage. Perhaps enough time has passed between my reading the two books or perhaps the stories are different enough, despite the similarities, the books do not feel formulaic. It will be interesting to see if he keeps to the same locales and the same themes in his works moving forward.

The most horrifying piece of the history in this book is true. During the AYK, an infant (not a twelve year old) named Ernest was indeed the prize of a raffle. History says that a winning ticket was picked, but the "prize" was never claimed. What happened to the baby has never been resolved. There are no words to describe such an event; yet, it is a piece of history I would never have known but for the home it finds in this fiction.

Two things draw me to Jamie Ford's books; in this too, the three books are similar. The first is that the books envelop the reader in their world - the sights, the sounds, the smells. I feel as if I am there experiencing the history. The other is his ability to draw sympathetic characters and to elicit that emotion. That keeps me engaged in the story. For that, I look forward to the next book.

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

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