The Gin Lovers
by Jamie Brenner
St. Martin's Griffin, $14.99
For many Americans, the “Roaring Twenties” call up images of decadent lifestyles, mass-culture, a burgeoning sexual revolution, and underground speakeasies. Jamie Brenner’s The Gin Lovers captures the Victorian era’s illusion of glamour and its harsh realities.
The matriarch of one of New York City’s most elite families has just died and Charlotte Delacorte must fill her late mother-in-law’s role—mastering pretenses. Charlotte’s marriage itself was nothing more than a rebellious son’s dig against a controlling mother. She doesn’t realize the depths of her loneliness until her wild flapper sister-in-law, Mae, moves in with the couple, opening a door to lies, secrets, and scandal.
Charlotte’s emotionally distant husband William goes to extreme measures to control Mae, who likes the fairer sex, to keep the family out of the gossip columns. He enlists Charlotte to keep an eye on Mae, only it backfires. Double-time. Charlotte follows Mae into a world of temptation, lust, and passion where people don’t live by rules, only desire, and, in the lyrics of Annie Lennox and David A. Stewart, some of them want to use and be used.
Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, and James Wesley ‘Bubber’ Miley jam in the background while Charlotte falls for Jake Larkin, a speakeasy owner with an ear for raw talent and hands that know all the right body moves. Despite his impressive ability to awaken a sexual excitement that Charlotte only dreamed of with William, Jake’s mix up with the bootlegging business threatens their relationship.
But Charlotte has bigger problems than her lover’s shady club and sister’s lovesick melodrama with an ambitious cocktail waitress. When she discovers that her husband has been covering up secrets that could topple the family wealth, she must make a risky decision without the promise of a happy future.
Charlotte is every browbeaten woman’s champion when she boldly transforms into a confident individual, unafraid to demand her needs. This transfiguration intoxicates the reader to witness the revelation. Personally, I enjoyed The Gin Lovers best when relaxing to old jazz tunes, which echoed Charlotte’s world of power and resistance.
At times the prose is sprinkled with melodramatic clichés, but it doesn’t waste time to keep us hooked on the action, and that is the hardest task that every writer struggles to grasp. Perhaps Brenner masters it best, because she was in love with soap operas and Aaron Spelling prodigies. We want more, and, innately, we are never satisfied, which is why soaps are the longest-running scripted television shows in American history.
Brenner tried to replicate the soap opera model by releasing weekly e-series episodes of The Gin Lovers in October 2012.
“I grew up on TV that used dramatic arcs,” Brenner said. “Part of the fun is you’re waiting and waiting. I didn’t have any model to follow. Now I feel like every publisher is experimenting with it, especially romance.”
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