Author: Mary Roberts Rinehart
Genre: Fiction (1910s / Socialite / Domestic Comedy / Secret Identity / Romance)
Publisher/Publication Date: Legacy Vintage Collection (2/14/2012)
Source: The publisher
Did I finish?: Yes, I inhaled this one.
One-sentence summary: Socialite Kit McNair is convinced to play the wife of a rich friend when his fashionable dinner party is crashed by his even richer aunt and much drama ensues.
Reading Challenges: E-books
Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's rather sweet, which matches the mood of the novel, and hints at a scene...sort of.
I'm reminded of...: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Janet Mullany
First line: When the dreadful thing occurred that night, everyone turned on me.
Did... I develop a hot crush on both our narrator, Kit, and the object of her love/hate, Tom Harbison?: YES. Both were charming and dramatic and intense and fun and romantic and silly and totally hot (in my mind's eye).
Did... I have 97 bookmarks out of 154 pages of text?: YES. Honestly, every page had a line that was pure gold. See my Teaser Tuesday for a sample of Rinehart's sharp, witty, playful prose!
Did... I get in to a giggle fit so bad while on the subway that I had to pretend I was coughing to keep from looking like a maniac?: YES, true story.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy, buy, buy -- this edition is $1.49 and includes a massive gallery of images to help visualize the era -- super fun!
Why did I get this book?: I love vintage fiction, especially early 20th century stuff, and I'm a sucker for a socialite!
Review: I adored this book. Everything about it: the writing style, the characters, the ludicrous plot, and frenetic mix of romance, slapstick comedy, and mystery. Written in 1910, this novel features a very broad and comedic portrait of New York society, and it was a delicious escapist read for the weekend.
I'm going to try to describe the plot. Bear with me, because I know how over-the-top it sounds, and it is, but it's also hilarious and amazing and fun. The story is told by Kit McNair, a New York socialite who is rather indignant about her treatment at the hands of her friends following a trying week. The drama begins when her friend and former amour Jim Wilson has a dinner party with other fashionable, rich friends, which is crashed by his rich and old-fashioned Aunt Selina. Aunt Selina is unaware that Jim has divorced, and since she hadn't met his ex-wife Bella, Jim convinces Kit to pretend to be his wife. As if that challenge isn't daunting enough, things really get wild when Jim's butler is discovered to have small pox, the city quarantines the house for a week, and Jim's ex-wife Bella breaks in to the house to steal away Jim's butler, unaware of the quarantine. Amidst all that, there are robberies, a cop discovered sleeping in the basement, reporters stalking the house, and flirtations and hurt feelings galore.
This sounds messy, I know, but Rinehart manages these wildly diverse threads beautifully. Her characters are wry, funny, sarcastic, rude, snobby, ridiculous, and appealing. As a snapshot of Edwardian New York City, it can't be beat, and Rinehart's writing conveys so much in so little. Her characters are clearly the precursors to the '20s flapper era, and I loved this snapshot of early 20th century New York society.
This e-book edition was a treat as well: for one thing, the formatting was great. I love Project Gutenberg and Google Books for public domain reads, but the files don't always display right in my ereader -- in this edition, there's no weird characters or formatting, and the font size was great without my needing to zoom in on anything. There's an extensive gallery of vintage images to help give the reader a sense of the era (which I appreciated, because I did keep envisioning folks as flappers and not Edwardian-ish socialites).
I must disclose that I've started writing content for The Vintage Reader, the blog associated with the Legacy Vintage Collection, but that has in no way affected my opinion of this book. If anything, this book made me more excited about Legacy Vintage's future offerings as I adore vintage fiction and am thrilled to see these forgotten gems available to readers.
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The publisher has kindly offered a copy of When a Man Marries e-book (epub or Kindle format) to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/international readers, ends 3/9.