Title: The Paragon: A Novel by Lyndsay Faye
Publisher: Putnam Books
Publication Day: Jan 8, 2019
In a nutshell (Publisher):
The year is 1921, and “Nobody” Alice James is on a cross-country train, carrying a bullet wound and fleeing for her life following an illicit drug and liquor deal gone horribly wrong. Desperate to get as far away as possible from New York City and those who want her dead, she has her sights set on Oregon: a distant frontier that seems the end of the line.
She befriends Max, a black Pullman porter who reminds her achingly of Harlem, who leads Alice to the Paragon Hotel upon arrival in Portland. Her unlikely sanctuary turns out to be the only all-black hotel in the city, and its lodgers seem unduly terrified of a white woman on the premises. But as she meets the churlish Dr. Pendleton, the stately Mavereen, and the unforgettable club chanteuse Blossom Fontaine, she begins to understand the reason for their dread. The Ku Klux Klan has arrived in Portland in fearful numbers–burning crosses, inciting violence, electing officials, and brutalizing blacks. And only Alice, along with her new “family” of Paragon residents, are willing to search for a missing mulatto child who has mysteriously vanished into the Oregon woods.
Why was “Nobody” Alice James forced to escape Harlem? Why do the Paragon’s denizens live in fear–and what other sins are they hiding? Where did the orphaned child who went missing from the hotel, Davy Lee, come from in the first place? And, perhaps most important, why does Blossom Fontaine seem to be at the very center of this tangled web?
The Paragon Hotel alternates between Italian Harlem, NYC and Portland, Oregon in 1921, when Oregon was fiercely represented by the KKK whose goal was to wipe its state clean of the blacks under the guise of upholding Christian values and putting America first.
I’m not one for novels with many characters as it makes it hard to keep track. So I thought The Paragon Hotel was going to be one of my DNF – not only did it have numerous characters, its writing style (frequent use of similes and idioms) was one I’m not used to even after a couple of hundred of pages in. But as I got deeper into the story, I fell in love with its characters and their stories.
And my, does Miss Faye know how to tell a story! Although it was a difficult beginning for me, reasons as stated above, I decided to stay on because I was intrigued by the female protagonist, Alice, or better known as ‘Nobody’, and I had this inkling that she had a lot to offer; and I was glad she proved me right.
After deciding to take on the offer of one of the big mafias in Harlem in exchange for protection, her life changed dramatically and so did her friendship with her best friend Nicolo. She got roped in and trained to be the eyes and ears of a Mafia boss known as the Spider, while Nicolo got his hands dirty when avenging for his dad who was murdered. Their differences set them off to different paths including one that led Nobody to the west, Oregon, Portland.
There, Nobody settled in Paragon Hotel, whose inhabitants were all blacks, except her. As her story in Oregon progressed, I was drawn to the lives and stories of its people in the hotel. I was enamored by Blossom, Alice’s new-found friend and confidante, whose tongue-in-cheek remarks definitely tickled my fancy; and Max, the tall, dark handsome Pullman porter who captured Alice’s heart with his looks and chivalry; also the kind and charitable Evelina, whose baked goods could charm the socks off of anyone.
All hell broke lose when one day, the much-loved child, Davy Lee, went missing. What happened to him? Was this the job of the KKK? Was someone being threatened? As Nobody tried to unravel its mystery, she realized there was more than meets the eye.
Running alongside Nobody’s misadventures in Oregon, was her background story in Harlem, NYC. I was intrigued as to why she left Harlem in such distraught. What happened to her? Why did Nicolo, her childhood friend who loved her dearly, shoot her? And why did she leave Spider, her guardian and protector?
After ruminating on this novel for a couple of days, it got me to thinking, what an irony it was for Nobody when she was treated better at the Paragon Hotel than her own home in Harlem where she had to rely on her wit and her intelligence to survive the Mafia, while in a place foreign to her, she was treated kindly, although not without hostility and reservations, her being white, by some Debbie Downers. And it was also in Oregon, where racism was at its worst, that she found love and friendship, and ironically, trust.
This novel is seeped in secrets, shrouded in mystery, with twists and turns in corners you least expect. Stay for that, and sit in for the jazzy tunes in the time of Billie Holiday, played and sung in sultry smoke-filled speakeasies. Trust me, you’ll be in for a treat!
I love reading the ‘Historical Notes’ right at the end too.
So now the following questions I have are, will Nobody ever return to Harlem? And will she ever reunite with Nicolo? What about the rivalry between The Spider and The Clutch Hand? And what about Blossom? Will she get what she wants?
Please give us a sequel, Miss Faye! I don’t normally read sequels, but here I am asking for one.
Thank you Netgalley and Putnam Books for providing a free eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Till then, HAPPY READING!
P/S I enjoyed her writing so much I just got myself another book by her – The Gods of Gotham! I want to see if it lives up to the hype 😁 Ooh and this is a series by the way, and I don’t normally read series, so that says a lot 😅