Friday, March 8, 2013
Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
At the turn of the second half of the twentieth century, Josie Moraine hides a farfetched dream that she shouldn’t have as the daughter of a prostitute and cleaner at Willie Woodley’s brothel establishment: she wants to go to New England and get a college education. But the path there is not straightforward: not only does she have to grapple with the difference in education and experience between herself and other Smith applicants, she also has to deal with her mother’s selfishness and ignorance. But with the support of some good friends, Josie just might be able to find a way…even as her mother gets them caught up in an unsolved murder crime and a dangerous mobster’s path.
What an immersive read! This is the first book by Ruta Sepetys that I’ve read, and she has an effortless way with characterization and words. Despite a few hiccups in the form of head-scratching plot twists and too-convenient revelations, I was easily caught up in Josie’s world and plights.
Josie is eminently likable. Literary, self-possessed, and determined, she is a gem among the New Orleans brothel community that comprises of most of her social circle, only she has no unattractive pretensions to get over. Sure, there is some romantic turmoil, but because Josie doesn’t place that at the forefront of her concerns (thank goodness!), we get a fuller and more enjoyable picture of who she is and who she can be.
Supporting characters, especially the tough madam Willie Woodley and her “posse,” are a delight. Willie Woodley is the mother that Josie never had, only she doesn’t need to unconditionally love her genetic offspring, and so the love between Willie and Josie is much more relaxed and something that Josie—and we—never take for granted.
OUT OF THE EASY does sympathetic characters so well, but it hiccups a little when attempting to tie together so many plot strings. The book is ostensibly driven by the mysterious death of a well-to-do out-of-towner, but that plotline quickly becomes tangled in a plethora of other subplots: Josie’s mother’s sinister gang connection, the romance, police busts, money issues, etc. In the end I didn’t feel like they were all given the time and space needed for a comfortably full story. The book could’ve been a hundred pages longer and I would’ve really appreciated the extra space for the story to stretch.
All in all, a delightful one-time read for me, not for the richness of its historical setting or the cohesiveness of its many plotlines, but for the good hearts of its characters.
Cover discussion: I enjoy its vibrant colors and painting-like feel. I also appreciate the symbolism going on. It's a nice image, but it would've been cool to see more of 1950s New Orleans in the picture.
Philomel / Feb. 12, 2013 / Hardcover / 352pp. / $17.99
e-book provided by publisher and NetGalley.