The Paragon Hotel
by Lyndsay Faye
This was a tough read. And I’m not talking about the period details of blood and violence of New York Mafia of those times, nor the casual acceptance of blatant racism, lynchings, and corrupted policemen supporting the Ku Klux Klan in Portland. Although those themes definitely provide the tension in this book.
I’m talking about the dialect (or at least I’m assuming its dialect when everyone says things like “I admired to learn more” instead of “I wanted to learned more” or whatnot), droll puns, arch references, etc. that everyone uses in their speech in this novel and most of it is dialogue.
I had to stop, reread, or guess what was being referred to half the time. And it was amusing and entertaining, but I also longed for the narrator, Alice/Nobody to just say things sometimes without the arch references to figure out.
Meanwhile, I was fascinated with the details of her life– born into a whorehouse in 1921 prohibition New York, she is childhood friends with a man who becomes part of the mafioso in her neighborhood. So does she after her friend’s father is killed and the whorehouse owner threatens to have her become part of his workforce. Alice is apprenticed in a way to a rival mafia don who uses her to gather information.
But we are also following Alice as she escapes a bloody confrontation in New York to a colored hotel in Portland where she is adopted by the colorful denizens of the hotel. Only, things begin to unravel when an orphan boy from the hotel disappears and the Ku Klux Klan reacts to the search for the boy with violence.
Everyone is fascinating, has secrets, and is larger than life. I just felt sometimes that the dialogue was over the top, much like flappers of that time!