The three heroines are introduced one after the other. During WWII, while on duty at a private hospital on East 69th St. in Manhattan, Dr. Kate Schuyler is surprised by her attraction to a new patient, Captain Cooper Ravenel, and his possession of a miniature portrait that resembles her greatly. At the height of the Gilded Age, gentle Olive Van Alan goes into service at the elegant Pratt Mansion, concealing her identity, and planning revenge on the rich family that ruined her father. Lastly, in 1920, Lucy Young, a German baker’s spirited daughter, takes up residence at a women’s boardinghouse, hoping to uncover her mother’s connection to the place.
The house in all three stories is the same. By the time the second iteration of Kate’s narrative came around, I was hooked, wondering how each woman’s story would turn out, and curious about the origins of the portrait and Kate’s ruby necklace.
Genealogy buffs will appreciate the unfolding mystery; I found myself sketching a family tree as relationships slowly fell into place. With its themes of lost grandeur, poignant romance, and the elusiveness of the past, the plot has a grand emotional sweep. It also addresses social barriers and the challenges women face in the working world. Through the role the house plays in each era, too – a status symbol, a respectable residence, and a utilitarian building – it symbolizes the changes transforming American society. This is an absorbing standalone novel, but fans of the authors’ previous books will notice some references left just for them.
The Forgotten Room was published by NAL in January ($25.95/C$33.95, hb, 371pp). This review first appeared in February's Historical Novels Review.