Monday, July 4, 2011

Review of Prima Donna by Megan Chance: Why is the Queen of historical feminism going all caveman on us?

Ever since my introduction to Megan Chance within the pages of “An Inconvenient Wife” I’ve been hooked on her style. The way she writes is so clean and mysterious at the same time- and so filled with emotion. Weather its that of a bound society wife yearning to break free, a lower class girl unexpectedly raised high by her marriage and then suspected of murdering the same man, the hysteria of the Salem witch trials or hear-the desperate yearning of young, talented Sabin Conrad for fame and music, or her older self’s’ desperate desire to hide as far as the railroad can take her-and never, ever sing again.

Instead Sabin takes on the name of Marguerite Olson and, almost unrecognizable with a deforming scar across her face, works as a bar maid in a sleazy tavern in Seattle. But the lure of the stage is strong and soon even the little platform the taverns owner, Johnny, has built, has her lusting after music. She can’t sing of course-she’s far too recognizable- but the “severing girls” who will keep company with men for a price can be trained to sing and play-badly. And at this point Johnny, a rough, harsh man who loves Marguerite, decides he wants to go bigger and bolder.

We watch Sabine’s life unravel both in the past and in the present as a lust for music and fame (in the past) and a fear of being found but a craving for the stage (in the present) prove to be her undoing. Her little tavern stage and the jewelry she sold to cross the country she sold from New York after a violent incident that left the scar across her face leave a clear path for her old manager, one time lover, and tyrant, Gideon Price to follow. And once they meet again the one sided story we’ve been told so far by Sabin opens up into a three dimensional tale where there is no clear bad guy and everyone may have done something wrong….

Like most of Chance’s novels this book  basically boils down to perception versus reality. That worked before, Salem witch trials-no better place for exploring such a thing. Female hysteria, bring it on. An innocent women being charged with murder because she wasn’t rich before her marriage-all the kinds of things where perception plays an equal or larger role than reality.

But here we have, through Sabine’s diaries of her days on the stage from the tender age of 16, her increasing unease ad unhappiness with Gideon as her manager;  there’s an element of fear when she’s around him-and a feeling of degradation at things she feels he makes her do. Lets be frank, there’s no doubt that Sabin will debase, beg, and whore her way to the top is she needs too-but Gideon is always in the wings, And just as Sabin in truly coming to terms with her new life as Marguerite there’s a big event which is kind of  a “here he comes to save the day moment”  only it’s really only it’s “oh you silly dear. I didn’t make you do those things. You just need a strong guiding hand like all women.”

Also the writing was pretty bad. The dairy entries were the most entertaining part of the novel and they were stiff and so coated with selfishness I wanted to gag. And in the present life is bleak-and Marguerite so depressed and withdrawn that getting through her sections was like wading through molasses.

The Queen of historical feminism goes all caveman on us? I was confused-and sad. Everyone loves a love triumphs in the end story but this was more than that. I gotta say, I’m not too interested right now in reading Chance’s new Novel, “City of Ash.”

Two and a half stars.

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