Though this period novel takes its title from the notorious red-light area of New Orleans where prostitution was legalized from 1898 to 1917, Battle more often calls the area ``the District,'' the epithet New Orleaneans familiarly used. With the finesse she demonstrated in such books as The Past Is Another Country , she dramatizes the lives of two women at opposite ends of the social scale. Kate is an innocent country girl who is seduced by a rake and abandoned, with little recourse but to become a woman ``in the life.'' Beautiful and appealing, she snares the heart of young Lawrence Randsome, scion of an old, distinguished New Orleans family. Meanwhile, his mother, transplanted Boston blueblood, bluestocking and suffragette Julia Randsome, has discovered that her husband Charles owns whorehouses in the District, and their marriage is damaged by her bitterness and lack of trust. Eventually, tragedy adds another dimension to their domestic squabbling; then Julia befriends the luckless Kate and comes into her own as an activist for women's rights. Battle deftly depicts the hardworking, tawdry denizens of the District, contrasting their existence to the decadent lives of many of New Orleans's first families. Her smoothly written novel nicely integrates background details (from the Spanish-American War to the Panama Canal to the social pecking order of the period) and features such secondary characters as an egregiously selfish mother-in-law and a brothel madam with a heart of gold--both credibly drawn. 75,000 first printing; Literary Guild dual main selection; Doubleday Book Club selection. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/04/1993 Release date: 01/01/1993 Genre: Fiction
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