Beatriz Williams, the bestselling author of One Hundred Summers, The Secret Life of Violet Grant, Tiny Little Thing and Along the Infinite Sea delights us once again with her latest novel, A Certain Age set in the glamorous backdrop of Prohibition-era Manhattan.
The novel details the story of Theresa Marshall, a woman who belongs to the upper echelons of 1920s New York high society. Theresa is the type of woman who has everything she always wanted; money, luxury, and comforts beyond anyone’s dreams. True, her marriage is less than perfect, but it hardly matters when she has a lover like Octavian Rofrano, a former aviator of the Great War and twenty years her senior.
The idyllic love affair between Octavian falls victim to the intrusion of nineteen-year-old nouveau riche Sophie Fortescue, who is set to be Theresa’s future sister-in-law. Things go awry however, when Theresa asks Octavian to serve as her brother’s cavalier and to investigate Sophie’s family history, unwillingly throwing Octavian unto the possibility of a different path, which may ultimately not include Theresa.
The descriptions and details that Williams infuses her characters with honor any novel written during F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s famed Gilded Age. She has the lexicon and slang of the Roaring Twenties down pat and chronicles the important social changes that surged after the war, particularly for women.
This is characteristic of every Williams novel. Her attention to detail is uncanny and unequivocally corresponds to the time period the novel belongs to. Very few writers of historical fiction accomplish this as flawlessly as she does.
It is a frequent theme in Williams’ novels to include a complex love triangle, and A Certain Age is no exception, bouncing back and forth from alternate points of view between Theresa and Sophie. It’s interesting to see the different way these two women think. The former seasoned by age, life experience both good and bad while the latter is young and innocent to the point of naïveté. Theresa is however, a difficult character to like and it’s particularly tiresome to indulge in her frequent aloofness, frivolity, and allegiance to absurd social standards. But Theresa is a product of the time and society she inhabits, and Williams convinces us to understand her convictions or lack of them with more clarity.
Readers who are fans of Williams’ novels will once again find that she includes several members of the Schuyler family, who make appearances in all of her novels. Either as main characters as in the case of The Secret Life of Violet Grant, Tiny Little Thing and Along the Infinite Sea or as important reference characters like in A Certain Age.
The novel’s ending reveals a great mystery, which is a constant factor in Williams’ work. Some readers may find that the great reveal in this case is perhaps a little rushed and suffers from the constant interruptions of Theresa’s many mocking musings and flashbacks. But redemption is also a constant in many Williams novels, and in A Certain Age Theresa has a chance of achieving it.
A Certain Age is an outstanding novel that allows us to bear witness not only to the frivolity and sometimes harsh lives of the privileged classes of the early 20th century, but also how others can get caught up in the entanglement of a complicated social net, revealing how true it is that appearances can be quite deceiving.