THE DOLLHOUSE, and wouldn't you know it but her protagonist is a journalist. Much like herself, would you say?
Fictional journalist Rose Lewin is starting over in both the work and personal spheres when she encounters a mysterious old woman who also lives at the former Barbizon Hotel, now a luxury condominium building with spaces reserved for the oldest tenants. She's a bit of a mystery woman, this Darby McLaughlin, having lived at the Barbizon from the days it housed young single woman in the early 1950's.
Ms. Davis intertwines the narratives of Rose, with her love life in tatters, and Darby the naif who befriends a hotel maid with tragic results. Bits and pieces of the tragedy come to light as Rose investigates the past, and the reader gets to pick up the bread crumbs along the trail as the story unfolds.
In general, the novel is a pedestrian effort that follows the formula of how to write a novel, and it opens strong. After the opening, however, the author demonstrates her background of telling stories, rather than showing them. Much of the action taken by the characters feels directed entirely by the author, rather than the characters.
As the novel reaches its conclusion, the movements felt forced and a bit artificial, almost unbelievable. It's more than a case of an unreliable narrator. It's an issue with telling how untrustworthy a character is, instead of showing it. When the cause of Darby's disfigurement is revealed, the episode plays false. As for the happy reunion of two former lovers, the couple comes together with an amity that is quite fictional as the author wants a happy ending even though the backstory would suggest something else, more complex perhaps but not so pat.
The novel is easy to read, and like a literary version of empty calories it won't fill you up or contribute to your lean, mean intellectual weight. Make it a summer read, light and breezy, and don't scoff too much at the way the loose threads are tied up a bit too neatly at the end.
Thanks to Penguin Random House for providing this review copy.