cover image Our Kind of People

Our Kind of People

Carol Wallace. Putnam, $17 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-525-54002-1

The latest from Wallace, whose nonfiction work To Marry an English Lord partially inspired Downton Abbey, delivers a smart, perfectly executed look at New York City in the Gilded Age. The surprising marriage between socially impeccable debutante Helen Maitland and successful tradesman Joshua Wilcox is happy until 1874, when Helen must launch their teenage daughters into society. Alice, their fetching youngest, attracts suitors despite her ambiguous pedigree, while the oldest, Jemima, is bookish, opinionated, and striking rather than pretty. Further complicating the girls’ debuts, Joshua’s vision of masterminding a trans-Manhattan elevated railway is draining his modest capital. Convinced of the venture’s promise, he uses their home as collateral for a short-term, high-interest loan from speculator Felix Castle. When Joshua defaults, Castle—a shrewd and cultured young businessman with a rakish reputation—forecloses. The family moves in with Helen’s rigidly traditional mother, and Helen’s trust in Joshua fractures. Jemima, meanwhile, finds Castle irresistible despite his contribution to their woes, and Alice prefers a disabled widower to the stylish youths her mother finds suitable. As each woman struggles, plans to bring Joshua’s company public may transform their finances again. Wallace does full justice to the era’s conventions, and her characters’ attempts to navigate meteoric social and technological change are recognizably and deliciously modern. Fans of Daisy Goodwin and Curtis Sittenfeld will relish this. (Jan.)