cover image The Social Graces

The Social Graces

Renée Rosen. Berkley, $17 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-984802-81-1

In this witty and beautifully imagined Gilded Age outing, Rosen (Park Avenue Summer) examines the rivalry between the Astors and the Vanderbilts toward the end of the 19th century. Caroline Astor finds a nemesis in Alva, the headstrong, redheaded wife of William K. Vanderbilt. The two socialites’ rivalry plays out as they vie to outdo one another in lavish events, in extending or withholding invitations to balls, and in arranging the most advantageous marriages for their daughters. Rosen digs deep to reveal the humanity of these socialites as they cope with death, betrayal, and the ultimate shame: divorce. Just as the imagery of sumptuous feasts, brilliant jewels and gowns, and magnificent palatial estates begins to pall, the increasingly decadent pageantry spurs a moral awakening when Alva’s sisters expose her to the struggles of average women and workers, and Caroline comes to appreciate her family and her devoted butler. The two doyennes, who despite their riches and status have few legal rights, summon the inner strength to defy stuffy convention, find happiness in love at last, and make significant societal contributions, such as funding the building of the original Metropolitan Opera and backing women’s suffrage. Rosen delights with breezy dialogue and keen insights into the era. Historical fans will love this. (Apr.)