Diane Prather

Diane Prather

Diane Prather: Glittering world of 1899 Manhattan, with a twist at the end

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The Luxe," by Anna Godbersen, released February 2008, is a novel for young adults - but one adults will equally enjoy, too. It's a novel you just can't put down.

The setting for the novel is Manhattan 1899 - specifically, the glittering world of the elite. Of utmost importance to the members of this world of luxury is adhering to a strict social code, so putting on appearances means absolutely everything. The newspapers' gossip columns tell all.

On a page just before the prologue to the novel, the reader finds a paragraph from the obituary page of The New York News World Gazette. It reports that services are to be Sunday, Oct. 8 at Grace Episcopal Church for Elizabeth Adora Holland, daughter of the late Mr. Edward Holland and his widow, Louisa Gansevoort Holland.

And so it is on that day that black, horse-drawn carriages begin arriving at the church. New York's best families are gathering to say goodbye to 18-year-old Elizabeth.

The coffin, covered with a white bow, is unusually light because there's no body in it. It has not yet been recovered from the Hudson River, though the river has been dragged. Not even a scrap of clothing has been found.

The last person to see Elizabeth alive was Miss Penelope Hayes, who reported the accident to the Holland family. It seems she and Elizabeth went for a ride alone in Penelope's carriage. It was early in the morning, by the water.

Penelope said there was a strange man by the waterfront, and her horses spooked. Elizabeth was thrown from the carriage into the river.

The horses pulled the carriage for blocks before Penelope could get control of them and look for Elizabeth. By then, there was no sign of her.

People are buzzing about the accident. Why didn't Penelope get thrown out, too? What about the strange man? Did someone find Elizabeth alive and sell her into slavery? The mayor is being blamed for not doing more to find Elizabeth.

But, no matter. They're all gathered at the service - the Schermerhorns, Van Peysers, McBreys, Astors and Harrisons. This very day, these same people would have been attending the wedding of Elizabeth and bachelor Henry Schoonmaker, so the funeral is all that more somber.

The Rev. Needlehouse begins the funeral service, "It is with a heavy heart :"

The church door bursts open, and Elizabeth's sister hurries down the aisle. Probably nobody notices just the touch of a smile that's disappearing from Diana's face. It foreshadows things to come.

Beginning with chapter one, the novel revisits the happenings before the funeral. Although there are lots of characters in the novel, the events center around five young people: Elizabeth, Diana, Penelope, Henry and Lina Broud, the Hollands' maid.

Secrecy is of the utmost importance, so that's why the Hollands keep quiet about running out of money and why Mrs. Holland wants Elizabeth to marry wealthy Henry Schoonmaker.

Meanwhile, Henry's father has decided to go into politics, so he gives Henry a choice - change his wild ways or lose his money. Henry's father wants him to marry Elizabeth, a girl with morals.

There's a twist at the end. The novel keeps a person reading.

"The Luxe" is published by HarperCollins Publishers. The hardcover book is $17.99, or you can find the book at the Moffat County Library.

The author is working on a sequel.

Copyright Diane Prather, 2008. All rights reserved.

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