Friday, January 2, 2015

VIXEN (THE FLAPPERS, #1) RECAP: Chapter 2 (Clara)

Hey all,

First of all:

Hope it was safe and fun for all.

Now that the holidays are over, it's back to the grind. That means, the Chapter 2 recap of the Jillian Larkin book, Vixen (The Flappers, #1).

In the last chapter, we left off with Gloria and Marcus leaving the Green Mill, a speakeasy they managed to sneak into.

Here is the Chapter 1 recap if you're just coming into this. Best to read it first.

So now onto Chapter 2, this one titled Clara. Like the first chapter (Gloria), this one is told from the point of view of the title character but in an omniscient third person voice.

We start off this chapter by meeting Clara as she stares covetously at a rather revealing dress in an issue of Vogue magazine by French designer, Jeanne Lanvin. Yes, French designer. Meaning people back then knew there was life outside of the US (despite what is eluded to in the first chapter about the "foreign exchange student from Arkansas"). Anywho, moving on.
After that, it is learned that Clara is on a train to Chicago with a one-way ticket as she tries devising a plan to sneaking on a train bound for New York.

Then we get some pretty good background on Clara to start her off:

Legal had never stopped her before. In fact, legality had always been the last thing on her mind--until she ended up in jail back in Manhattan. But she'd been bailed out, so really, what was one more time?
No. She had to look on the bright side: At least she had gotten out of staying in Pennsylvania with her parents (which was a different sort of jail). They were the reason she'd run away to New York City in the first place, during her senior year of high school--to leave behind everything she'd known: her family, her worthless high school diploma, her "good Christian" values. She couldn't bear living in a place where the girls got excited about the prospect of a church mixer, after pledging their chastity and swapping pie recipes.

Aside from a couple grammar errors, that is actually a good passage and introduction to Clara's character. As of this moment, she is definitely more interesting than Gloria. At this point, Gloria just annoys me and I still think Marcus is a dumbass.
Anyway, we get more description on the month Clara had spent back in Pennsylvania and the toll being ridiculed and ostracized for her stint in New York had taken on her. This is also why she accepted her aunt Beatrice's (Gloria's mother) proposal to come to Chicago and help her plan Gloria's wedding. Anything to get out of her situation, I guess.

Now so far, Jillian Larkin has me into Clara's story. Then this happens:

Now Clara gazed out the window at a nauseating stretch of cornfields whizzing by. The only noteworthy site for miles had been one sweaty, muscular farm boy, his tanned arms bulging as he thrust his hoe into the field. He'd been pretty, but probably as dumb as the soil he worked.

Um, remember how you mentioned being so torn up over people judging and ridiculing you that you couldn't get out of bed, Clara?  Just because someone works on a farm or lives in a rural area doesn't mean their intelligence is lacking (as someone who grew up in a fairly rural area in Pennsylvania, I can attest to knowing quite a number of intelligent people from there). For all you know he could be working to save money for college, or he could be helping his father run a farming business. Or, he could be this guy:

But you'll never know, Clara. Because apparently, it's okay for her to judge others but not okay for them to judge her. I guess that makes two negative stereotypes in this book so far:

1. People from bygone times are ignorant to everything and not very bright (Chapter 1)
2. "Farm boys" and people who work on farms are as dumb as the soil they work on.

Got it. Negative stereotyping is starting to add up in this book.

After her holier than thou observation toward the farm boy, she reminisces over her time in New York and wonders what her former roommates and partners in crime, Leelee and Coco, were doing that very moment. She is also driven crazy over the fact that the exciting city life would continue on without her and that the girls with whom she had had friendships with are carrying on with their wild parties and date nights. Though it is for the best, we are told, as that year in New York nearly ruined her.
Clara then thinks about how she would kill for a smoke. She pulls out her case to find that she only has one cigarette left with two more hours to go on "the train ride from hell":

At least she had her flask of gin, securely tucked into her favorite red garter. She'd have to drink it in the bathroom; unchaperoned young ladies getting tanked on trains was frowned upon. Mostly because it was illegal.

She rises from her seat and among the middle-aged businessmen, she sees a very striking young man in seat D20. As he reads the paper (the sports section), she sends a smoldering stare in his direction and slows her pace. When he does not look up, she takes a more drastic measure by pretending to trip and dropping her cigarette directly under his seat. Then she bends down to pick it up and squeezes her arms together to amp up her cleavage. This move works on the man in seat D20:

"I don't mind retrieving that for you," he said, bending down so that his face hovered mere inches from hers. "But I do mind you putting something that filthy in your mouth."
"It was my last one, so I have no other choice."
"You must want it badly, then."
"Unless, of course, you have something better to offer me?"
He pulled her up from the floor. "I hope you like it unfiltered."

I'm kind of torn on that passage: while I enjoyed the flirtatious banter, I'm also half expecting a 1970s' porno soundtrack to start up. Or at least Marvin Gaye.

So keeping the 70s porno in mind, imagine Clara heading to the back of the car with "D20" who is convinced he's going to get some. But as they are about to, well, "get it on", the clef in his chin reminds her of "someone else".

It causes her to push him away and we are told that the clef in the man's chin reminds her of "him":

The boy she'd left back in New York. The one she had so surely (and tragically) fallen for. The one who was responsible for--

In the midst of this inner soliloquy, the man simply assumes that her pushing him away means that she likes to play rough. He comes back at her, still thinking he's going to get lucky.

But then...

A wave of disgust shot through Clara's body. Back in Manhattan, she would never have shied away from being naughty with a handsome stranger. But that was then. Now she needed a break from her old life. From boys, those disgusting, horrid little creatures who had the ability to toss her heart in the air and then smash it into the ground. Now D20 seemed repulsive. She didn't even know him. Or was it herself she didn't know?
"I guess I'm not the type of girl you thought I was," she said. Then she slid out of his grasp and walked away.

Now this inner turmoil Clara obviously has is pretty well demonstrated by the author. I'm actually interested in finding out what exactly happened to her.

After this passage, we have a section break.

After the section break, we find Clara inside the mansion of her cousin Gloria's family, the Carmody family. We learn that she has not been there since her childhood, and she marvels at how large the house is:

She could fit her entire Greenwich Village block inside this mansion and there would still be room left over.

She waits for her aunt Beatrice and catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror, barely recognizing herself:

Her face was a bare canvas: no kohl around her eyes, no scarlet lips, no fake fringe of lashes. Her blue eyes were puffy from lack of sleep, with a smudge of bruised purple beneath each of them.

Okay, this was actually good up until the part about the "smudge of bruised purple beneath each of her eyes."  I actually had to read that line twice because the way it reads, it kind of sounds like she's wearing purple eyeshadow UNDER her eyes. Plus, the bruised part makes it seem like someone beat her up before her arrival (which I guess is possible, but there is no real suggestion of that in the text thus far). Here's the thing: readers often do take things literally so in most cases, it is best to just say what you mean. Like if the author wanted to suggest that Clara had dark circles under her eyes from stress and lack of sleep, something like her eyes were puffy from lack of sleep with dark circles underneath them would have sufficed (I'm sure everyone, or at least most people, knows what dark circles around or under the eyes from lack of sleep looks like). Save the colorful play on words for parts in the story when you can make it count and create atmosphere for more intense scenes.

She continues lamenting over how plain she looks now compared to her style while living in New York. She realizes again how much this past month has hit her and is angry at her ex-boyfriend all over again. She is angered over how he's probably living life without her and decides it all needs to stop. Then Aunt Beatrice appears at the top of the stairs.

"Clara, dear, is that you?" Her aunt was at the top landing of the grand staircase. What was she wearing? She looked as if she'd been swallowed by a beast made entirely of dark ruffled crinoline.

That was actually kind of witty and yes, I will cut Clara a break for being so judgmental of people since at this point, it seems to be a defense tactic. I just hope her chapters don't actually end up being long, drawn out parades of misanthropy.
Clara greets her aunt and the two give one another a "chaste tap of a hug." Then Aunt Beatrice looks her over and makes a snide remark over what a woman she's become. As I read their exchange, I'm thinking "what is this, the 1920s version of Dynasty?" Apparently. We also learn that Clara really is only a year older than Gloria, making her eighteen.
Okay, I have seen reviews of this book in which the reviewer points out that at eighteen, most young women in the 1920s were either married or living on their own, therefore making this whole thing with Clara's parents dragging her back to their farm unlikely. Based on my own research, films I've watched and books I've read from that era, it is correct that many young women were leaving home and either getting jobs, going to college, or getting married at Clara's age back then. Some were even starting their lives at 16 or 17. The age of sexual consent in most states had also been raised to between 16 and 18 by the year 1920. However, despite all that, I have read in several sources that the age of official adulthood was 21 and supposedly changed during WW2. I'll have to look into that more, but if the 21 year adulthood is correct, Clara's parents would still have some responsibility over her. Even if she was able to get a job, go away to college, drive a car, have sex, get married, etc, her parents still would have legal right to drag her back to their home after bailing her out of jail, unless she emancipated herself (which is an entirely different issue in itself) or got married. So in the author's defense, I don't think she's too far off here.

The rest of the exchange between Aunt Beatrice and Clara is basically more banter straight out of a 1980s/1990s soap opera. Beatrice lets Clara know that she is hosting a small dinner party for Sebastian and Gloria. The entire time, Clara is worrying over how much her aunt knows of her past. We find out that while Aunt Bea does know of Clara's stint in jail, Clara also has an even darker secret that only her two former roommates know of. We then also have Aunt Bea tell her niece that unless she changes her sinful ways and manages to help Gloria successfully marry Sebastian Grey, Clara's parents have given her permission to ship their daughter to a reform school, a boarding school for 'lost girls.'
Clara begins to respond but feels the contents in her stomach disagree with her. She excuses herself and runs upstairs, dashing into a room marked with a gold G on the door. She interprets that to mean "guest" and then starts to feel better. Until she opens the door and is horrified by the carnation pink decor:

The room reeked of rose water and French soap and looked like a life-size dollhouse. The quickest scan of the room confirmed that G stood for Gloria: An essay of Great Expectations, with an A+ marked in red on top of the desk; a silver hairbrush and a pair of pearl studs atop a crystal tray on the vanity; and on the nightstand, a gilt-framed photograph of cherub-cheeked Gloria gazing adoringly at a blandly handsome man, whom Clara could only assume was Sebastian Grey.

Again, this passage was excellent in giving us more insight into Gloria. But all those semi-colons are horribly distracting, especially in places where a period or comma would have sufficed. A great piece of writing advice I received in regards to semi-colons is as follows: if you are in doubt over whether or not they should be used, it's best not to use them. Here is my own rewrite of that paragraph:

The room looked like a life-size dollhouse, and reeked of rose water and French soap. The quickest scan of the room confirmed that G stood for Gloria. An essay of Great Expectations was on top of the desk, marked with a red A+. A silver hairbrush was laid out with a pair of pearl studs atop a crystal tray on the vanity, and on the nightstand sat a gilt-framed photograph of cherub-cheeked Gloria gazing adoringly at a blandly handsome man, whom Clara could only assume was Sebastian Grey.

I get the feeling though, friends, that Ms. Larkin is quite fond of semi-colons.

Clara sits down on the bed in defeat as she feels her Manhattan self slipping away. She also wonders if reinventing herself from Fearless Flapper into high society girl. She wonders if doing so would be the key to finally getting a man she refers to as 'the Cad' out of her head for good. She makes a decision to prove everyone wrong, prove she could change. She would approach it was one would approach a role in a play or movie:

If this were a play, how would her character be described?
Clara Knowles (18): Sweet-as-pie and innocent-as-a-lamb farm girl, with aspirations to be a humble schoolteacher, comes to the big city for the first time. Country mouse. Wide-eyed and naive.
Didn't all the movie magazines say that reinvention was a secret to a "new, improved you"? Perhaps that was the ticket: reinvention. She would leave behind her seedy New York ways, her lost love, her tarnished heart, and don the hat of a Chicago society girl like her cousin Gloria. Out with the old Clara and in with the new.
And God help anyone who got in her way.

Hmm. That last part leaves me wondering if Clara is our assassin in the prologue? We shall see.
So far, Clara is more interesting to me than Gloria, and it will (hopefully) be interesting to see how she flips the switch of "bad girl gone good."

So, what has been established so far in the first two chapters?
- Gloria is supposed to be scholarly, though certain passages suggest a different scenario.
- Gloria has shitty friends.
- I can't decide whether Marcus is an asswipe or just plain stupid. Or both. We shall see.
- One negative stereotype already: people prior to the 21st century were dimwitted and ignorant to everything.
- The author does have a talent for setting a scene and introducing characters. Hopefully this will end up being a decent read.
- Another negative stereotype: people who work on farms are also apparently dimwitted.
-Lots and lots of semi-colons.
- Clara is more interesting than Gloria (at least so far).

That is all for now. See you back here for chapter 3 where we will meet girl number 3, Lorraine.

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