cover image The Gods of Newport

The Gods of Newport

John Jakes, . . Dutton, $25.95 (383pp) ISBN 978-0-525-94976-3

True love confronts Gilded Age class hierarchy in Jakes's latest engaging historical potboiler. Railroad tycoon Sam Driver sets out to conquer the summer resort of Newport, R.I., at the 1890s pinnacle of its glamour—and snootiness—in order to avenge its snubbing of his dead wife and find a prestigious match for his daughter, Jenny. It's a world ruled by New York socialites, where the slightest blemish of background or breach of protocol triggers ostracism. Sam struggles to conform while fending off the efforts of an old rival to exclude him, but Jenny throws a monkey wrench into things by falling in love with a handsome, lower-class Irishman. Jakes serves up a melodrama—and satire—of the tyranny of social convention with a girl-power ending. It doesn't always ring true, especially when Sam pressures Jenny to marry the obviously villainous Count Orlov, and action set pieces like a tennis match and a carriage race are less than gripping. But Jakes is a fluent storyteller, and his meticulous reconstruction of fin-de-siècle excess will have fans savoring the lavish details of jewelry, fashion, food and follies. (Nov. 7)