Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford: Reading Room Review

Jamie Ford likes to make people cry, and he is completely unapologetic about it. But, of course, his stories so affect even the most resolutely determined thick-skinned reader. Ford's third book, Love and Other Consolation Prizes, is yet another epic historical fiction tale, with a tender and hard-fought-for love story at the heart of it. No one commands the English language better than Jamie Ford in taking readers on a journey through time, revealing not only a history and secrets of a human life, but bringing to life past periods of time in our country, in particular Seattle, where we can taste the cotton candy of a World's Fair and see the exploding fireworks and feel both the joy and despair of people constricted by their circumstances of birth. Life is hard and ugly and simple and complex and precious and beautiful, and Ford doesn't let readers miss a minute of its movement from point A to point B.

Ernest Young starts his difficult journey in China, born to a Chinese mother and a Caucasian father, a circumstance that immediately marks him as "different," a standout where standing out is not a desired trait. At the age of five, he is left by his starving mother in a cemetery to be collected by a man from America to sail to that new country with other young boys and girls. Ernest, who is given that name at a later date, survives the voyage and arrival in America against all odds. His first seven years are spent in a blur of wrong placements and a somewhat fortunate break for some education. However, it is when Ernest is twelve that his life takes a turn for the placement and adventure that will solidly shape his future. He is raffled off at the 1909 World's Fair in Seattle, and the winner is the Madam of the city's nicest brothel. 

Life at the brothel, named the Tenderloin, is better than Ernest has ever had it before. He is accepted into his role as the house boy by the other servants, and it seems at last he has a place where he feels he belongs. There is even someone he knows working as a kitchen girl, the girl that gave him comfort on his long ocean voyage years before, Fahn. Fahn and another young girl, Maisie, who is the madam's daughter, become instrumental in affecting the choices and paths that lead Ernest to adulthood. The trio form a bond that transcends time and space and pain of separation. 

And, the story is also about Ernest as a grown man of 65, who is grappling with a wife who doesn't always recognize him, a resurgence of memories brought on by the new 1962 World's Fair in Seattle, and the risk of long buried secrets surfacing to be discovered by his two adult daughters. The lives of those he loves have always been the most important concern for Ernest, and his struggle to keep promises and his world upright is put to the final test.

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