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Our Kind of People

by Carol Wallace

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223864,387 (3.25)None
Helen Wilcox has one desire: to successfully launch her daughters into society. From the upper crust herself, Helen's unconventional - if happy - marriage has made the girls' social position precarious. Then her husband gambles the family fortunes on an elevated railroad that he claims will transform the face of the city and the way the people of New York live, but will it ruin the Wilcoxes first? As daughters Jemima and Alice navigate the rise and fall of their family - each is forced to re-examine who she is, and even who she is meant to love.… (more)
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You’ll need to be in the right mood for Our Kind of People, but there’s an easy test to see if you are. If you read the first scene, in which Helen’s about to be late for an important social occasion, while her daughter Jemima worries that her mother might arrive late. Both think a great deal about the potential social consequences of lateness, and then the scene ends before you can see if any of those worries happened and if there was any social fallout from her arriving late. So if you’re in the mood for that level of slow-paced manners novel, the rest of this book will be perfect for you.

I’m frequently in the mood for stories of women going to their dressmakers for an outfit that’s flatteringly eye-catching without being too ostentatious, within the bounds of the style of the season, of course. So I just loved these scenes of who cut who at the opera or who to invite to social events or how to restyle last year’s fashions. It doesn’t quite feel like a manners novel, though, because the characters aren’t engaged in social rituals and following social codes as much as the characters are constantly worried about messing up. Our Kind of People is much more a story about people worrying about potential social consequences, than a book about social customs. Like real worries, a great deal of the characters’ stress comes from things that never come to pass. All this time inside their heads helps readers get to know our characters very well.

In a few places, the sense of scale felt slightly off for me. So much of the book is characters saying I couldn’t possibly! Whatever would people say?! about things like an unchaperoned walk in the park but when there are actual shocks and scandals, the family just absorbs them and moves on. There’s a great deal made of Helen’s husband having the wrong background for old New York families, but when he does things that I expected to be scandalous — driving his own family while dressed as a coachman, or losing so much money they lost their house — the family just sort of accepted and absorbed it without much fallout. The same thing happened for a certain romance that seemed shocking and scandalous.

The slow pace really worked for me with the storyline about the elevated railroad. I imagine that having all the family’s money tied up in a terribly risky new business would have felt tense and grinding for the family. Most readers will know that there’s a train in Manhattan, and that the High Line was an elevated train line, but I didn’t know who built the elevated train or whether one of the founders got pushed out at the last minute or how any of that would go down.

The slow pace also worked for the gradual warming or cooling of relationships over time, or of a reputation changing. Maybe even social class changing? We get to see characters grow and change over the course of the novel, but remember that growing and changing might mean inviting a friend without an old-money background to the opera or holding a coming-out ball at a different venue.

We also get to see amazing scenes of old New York, with wildly different neighborhoods. This the a time where the new train was a speedy, upscale method of transportation around the city, and not dirty and constantly held for signal failure.

Our Kind of People would be a good fit for fans of Debutante, although of course the time period is wildly different.
  TheFictionAddiction | May 8, 2022 |
1870s NYC and Helen and Joshua Wilcox are in love - but Helen's mother thinks Joshua is just marrying Helen for her money. Joshua plans to build The Elevated - a train track to connect downtown to upper NYC for speedy travel, and that takes capital. Helen and Joshua Wilcox have 2 daughters, Jemima and Alice, and a son, Nick. They plan to present Jemima and Alice to society.
The Wilcoxes lose their fortune and then regain it. The girls don't wish to follow norms for meeting their beaus, and have other ideas, yet Helen is adamant about introducing them to society properly.
However, instead of a boring presentation, Helen upends NYC society but planning the party of the year.
This is an entertaining look at high society, plus the jealousy between socialites. Enjoyable but more fluff and excessive wealth. A peek into the gilded age. ( )
  rmarcin | Feb 26, 2022 |
Sadly, I am one of the very few that just did not adore this novel. I felt that it was slow and repetitive, dreary and depressing. But, yes, it did show the mores of the times...at least for the rich. This book did show what it was like to lose one's fortunes during this time period...if you were rich.

I can see that this book will be a success for those who like to read dishy gossipy books (think the Vanderbilts and the Astor's), and I usually love them also. However, there was just something about this book that didn't stick that specific something with me. It was a fascinating 'coming of age' novel, and I did like the fact that these women broke a lot of molds.

I liked this book; I just didn't adore it.

*ARC supplied by the publisher Penguin Random House, the author, and Edelweiss/ATTL. ( )
  Cats57 | Nov 14, 2021 |
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Helen Wilcox has one desire: to successfully launch her daughters into society. From the upper crust herself, Helen's unconventional - if happy - marriage has made the girls' social position precarious. Then her husband gambles the family fortunes on an elevated railroad that he claims will transform the face of the city and the way the people of New York live, but will it ruin the Wilcoxes first? As daughters Jemima and Alice navigate the rise and fall of their family - each is forced to re-examine who she is, and even who she is meant to love.

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