Coming of age story about 1st generation immigrant Miriam Levine who defies cultural prescriptions for young woman of early 1900s
In BEGUILED, the protagonist Miriam's young frail brother Izzy died from the 1918 flu. In those days, the pandemic wiped out many young children and people aged 20-40, unlike COVID-19, but it was at least as deadly worldwide. Brought to US by soldiers fighting in WWI, it started in Minneapolis/St.Paul area. News reports show similar unpreparedness as what we've had in 2020. Even those two cities had vastly different ways to cope, but the parallels to our local government responses now are uncanny. Health providers got sick in droves or refused to come to work. Some people complied with restrictions; some did not and went to movies or football games or church. Even though we have many more means to treat once infected, limiting spread—covering faces, isolation, closing businesses, limiting numbers in public spaces—all of that was recommended in varying ways in 1918. I just heard that the partner of a childhood friend died. A man who was high risk. I'm unaccountably sad, even though I didn't know him. And I haven't seen my friend in person since we were young teens in Toledo, Ohio. All I can think about is how deficient this country has been in protecting our population. Would that the next administration will have a plan based on science, experience, and humanity.
This excerpt in BEGUILED is about Miriam, the protagonist, meeting Minerva Rossetti at the tryouts for The Wizard of Oz. Minerva became her best friend, a friendship that lasted a lifetime, as attested to in the sequel, which I'm writing now. Reading this again reminded me of being a young teenager, as Miriam was, going to Tanglewood in the Berkshires of Massachusetts with my family. My mother, a culture maven, bought Friend's tickets for me and my sister to go to free rehearsals at the famed music center all summer. There Mom met all of these handsome, talented male musicians, whom she was attracted to. She invited them to dinner at the cottage, but they somehow latched onto ME, a 14 year old, and invited me out on dates. I was thrilled and anxious, getting bellyaches all summer. One evening, when my dad had joined us on the weekend, my 45 year old married conductor "friend" invited me out on the lake on OUR canoe for a moonlight ride, as we had been doing for a few weeks. My dad refused to give him the key to the boat shed, so we couldn't go. I raised holy hell and didn't speak to my dad for weeks. Is this part of my life suggesting my next novel?
Even if you didn't cancel your wonderful summer holiday this year, you can partake of my protagonist Miriam's first visit to Provincetown on the tip of marvelous Cape Cod. This chapter is set in 1920s where Miriam and her girlfriend Minerva accept their new friend Frank Shay's (real playwright of the Roaring 20s) invitation to visit. He was one of the famous literati of the time, knowing all kinds of cultured folks in New York and P'Town. In this chapter the girls are introduced to Eugene O'Neill among others. They get to view one of his 1-act plays in Frank's barn of a playhouse. They are duly impressed, being young women who've come to NYC from poor Boston immigrant neighborhoods, hoping to make it big. It is also the place where Miriam meets Noel, an older man, war vet, who later plays an important role in the story. If you have missed your summer holiday, read BEGUILED, an F. Scott Fitzgerald wannabe, to let yourself be swept away by the times, pre-depression when spirits were high, expectations soared, money was spent, drinks flowed, and among cultured people, scintillating conversation flourished.
Here protagonist Miriam Levine and her girlfriend Minerva go to NYC for the first time. Miriam is enamored of all the glitz and they go to countless numbers of shows to introduce Miriam, who loves theater, to the Big Apple. At age nineteen I went with my girlfriend Judi to NYC for the summer. We too were set for an adventure. We rented a room in the upper 80s from an older woman. I worked at Lerner's Store on 42nd Street having to stand up all day even when there were no customers while selling hosiery and had to subway back home at night. I was a little nervous about my safety but swung my bag just like Julie Christie did in some movie from back then, looking like I knew where I was going and had no trouble. We went to art museums, shows, lectures. It was exciting for a small town Midwestern girl. Much like Miriam in Beguiled. Hope you enjoy. Book is available from me directly or from Amazon and in audio from Audible.
In this coming-of-age historical novel set in the early 1900s in NYC, Miriam the protagonist and her girlfriend Minerva journey to the Big Apple for the first time out of Boston's immigrant communities. They begin to be introduced to the wider world, a harbinger of things to come for both of them. This trip reminds me of my own when I was 19, from the Midwest, and went with a friend to live in NY for the summer. I worked selling hosiery at Lerner's on 42nd Street, coming home alone on the subway to upper West Side room we rented. I remember the Julie Christie movie from way back then, and how she would walk with determination, swing her bag, as if she knew where she was going and no one should bother her. I did that and no one bothered me. A grand time and way to grow up.
In this coming-of-age immigrant story, Miriam Levine, the protagonist, is trying so hard to please her depressed, critical Ma. Here she makes elaborate plans for a birthday party for her sickly little brother Isaiah, called Izzy. Everything is going beautifully, she's thought of every detail, until... well, read the chapter and you'll discover what happens. Previous chapters of BEGUILED introduce the reader to memories of childhood that Miriam looks back on, after she returns to her family home in the tenements of Boston, having fled her abusive husband. The story is relevant today to so many immigrant families. It is even more tragic for today's immigrants as many families are separated and livelihoods destroyed and children traumatized. This story of Miriam, although she encountered many obstacles, is minor in comparison.
THis excerpt from BEGUILED takes place in 1916 in Boston. Miriam, the protagonist, is finally allowed by her cautious and critical mother to try out for a major part in The Wizard of Oz. This ia a critical turnaround for her, from being cloistered in her immigrant neighborhood to knowing the outside world. Here she meets Minerva who will become her lifelong friend. She is enamored with Minerva, tries to copy her appearance and demeanor. As a girl who has had no previous romantic or sexual experience, the reader might be curious as to where this relationship might go. Is this a schoolgirl crush? Is she a lesbian? She is completely naive and this thought probably never enters her mind, but to the contemporary reader, it might raise questions.
After writing this scene of my protagonist Miriam being invited to Schrafft's by a the flirtatious friend of her father's to celebrate her 16th birthday, I realized it reminded me of my mother, to whom the book is dedicated. My mother, Jeanne Brooks Kitaj, was a true romantic, unlike me! She professed to "love" Leonard Bernstein, whom we saw conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra many times in my youth at Tanglewood in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. There were many other luminaries whom she idolized and fell in love with. Miriam's Pop had men come to the house for years for his Workmen's Circle, a secular Jewish Club. A young man who participated always had a flirtatious word for young pretty Miriam.
Beguiled practically wrote itself, as if I were channeling a story rolling out of my mind. It's the story of a woman who lived in my mother's generation, early 1900s, and is modeled on the type of woman my mother could have been if she'd had the gumption, which she did not. So, this is entirely fictional with a few historical markers about my very secular Jewish heritage on my mother's side, grandparents I knew very little about. Miriam Levine, the protagonist faces some similar challenges that my mother faced, but reacted to them very differently. While my mother was pretty conventional, Miriam took a big risk and despite challenges achieved much of her dream. Wait until you can read the sequel which is almost finished.
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