This book is: a great concept that didn’t quite work out.
Other elements: vintage New York, small businesses, affairs, women in the workplace, vintage clothing.
Read it: maybe if you’re really into stories about old New York.
Overall rating: 4.5/10
Astor Place Vintage tells the stories of Amanda, a vintage clothing store owner who has discovered a diary in an antique fur muff, and Olive, the long-ago girl who once hid her diary in the lining of her muff for safekeeping. Amanda happens upon (and steals) Olive’s diary while one a clothing-buying outing for her store and begins to read it.
Amanda is a contemporary New Yorker who owns her own businesses, is afraid she’s too old to have children, and evaluates every man she meets for marriageability potential. Olive, her counterpart, is woman from a well-to-do family who finds herself penniless and alone in early 1900’s New York City after a family tragedy. Olive soldiers on through sexism, squalor, and seduction in pursuit of her dream: to support herself without depending on a man.
According to the book summary, reading Olive’s diary is supposed to teach Amanda valuable lessons about her own life. Olive’s life and Amanda’s life might have occasionally intersected in subject matter, but Amanda didn’t really seem to learn anything beyond some useful history. She does have a major turning point that coincides with when she reads about a major turning point in Olive’s life, but Amanda’s revelation is the direct result of something she learns from the present, not the past.
I grew to like Olive by the middle of the novel – when she became interestingly self-sufficient and stopped being such a cliché. Amanda was a constant disappointment. She suffers from a woe-is-me, I-wasted-my-youth-on-a-man-who-never-married-me attitude that is infinitely irritating. It’s boring, overplayed, and off-putting. Hasn’t fiction had enough 30-somethnig women who want to wallow in their failure to be married? Her inability to escape a long affair with her married lover and attendant despair could have been interesting and humanizing, but it’s just not.
The one plot point that really was Olive’s quest for accurate information about contraception in the early 1900’s; I found the variation of misinformation she encountered and the depth of the taboos she challenged fascinating. As a girl who grew up without a mother, Olive had never had anyone explain the facts of life to her. When she’s abruptly thrust into the lower echelons of New York society by her father’s death, these missing facts suddenly become vital rather than just interesting. Sadly, this plot line wasn’t a major focus.
This book is tied together by a number of unsurprising coincidences that shock the characters and bore the reader. Overall, this feels like two books that were chopped up and unsuccessfully mashed together. Astor Place Vintage is a fun concept that failed to put its money where its mouth is.
My thanks to edelweiss and Touchstone for providing me with a copy of this book for review.