The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye

The Paragon Hotel

Lyndsay Faye

Desperate to get far away from those who want her dead, Alice has her sights set on Oregon. She travels from Prohibition-era Harlem to Portland’s the Paragon Hotel and becomes tangled in a search for a missing child in the woods.

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The new and exciting historical thriller by Lyndsay Faye, author of Edgar-nominated Jane Steele and Gods of Gotham, which follows Alice "Nobody" from Prohibition-era Harlem to Portland's the Paragon Hotel.

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?


Advance Galley Reviews

I admit, I'd never heard of the historical events on which this novel is based--that Oregon was founded as a kind of paradise for white people, for example, the only state to have passed a provision encouraging the punishment of any African-Americans who lived there, in an active attempt to get all of them to leave. All of the issues in The Paragon Hotel (a location based, the author tells us, upon the Golden West Hotel, which existed from 1906 to 1931 in Portland) are relevant today, from racist policing to gender identity to women striving to have agency over their own lives. There's plenty to admire in the ambitions of this book. However. The whole narrative reinforces the white savior archetype found in so many books by white authors, and it leaves a bad taste in today's artistic climate. The main character, a white woman who goes by the name of Nobody, enters the world of these black characters (through the most unlikely of several unlikely turns in the plot), inserts herself in their lives, wins over a handsome and dignified African-American lover, uses her money to improve several of their situations, and overall spends the novel as a kind of scrappy benefactress. And (although I've enjoyed the author's previous historical mystery series featuring Timothy Wilde) the characters in this book speak an odd, stilted version of 1920s American English that isn't at all recognizable to me. I think many people will like this book, and I see it has garnered some very positive reviews here. But regretfully I can't count myself as one of its fans.

Escaping one world of problems and landing in the middle of a completely new type of world with its own peculiar problems, Nobody has much to adapt to in Lyndsay Faye's The Paragon Hotel.  In 1921, when Prohibition is going strong, Nobody, aka Alice James, is fleeing across the country via train with a bullet wound as she escapes a deadly situation of gang control over illicit drugs and alcohol in her native Harlem. Traveling as far away as she can think, Nobody heads to Oregon and en route is befriended by Max, a black Pullman porter, who helps her when she needs medical attention and takes her to the Paragon Hotel upon arrival in Portland. In the only all-black hotel in the city, Nobody stirs up a fair amount of anxiety and concern as a white woman residing there as she convalesces. No stranger to diversity and liberal in her viewpoints, Nobody keenly observes the hotel's lodgers and the increasingly tense atmosphere growing in Portland for its black residents, which peaks when one of the young hotel residents, Davy Lee, goes missing. Nobody helps with the search for him and begins to uncover the many secrets intertwining the lives of the residents that paints a picture of just how and why he has disappeared.  A historical fiction story that encompasses numerous issues of the time, including some that have poignant echos to this day. The writing develops the characters well and imbues them with depth that's believable as motivation for their actions, as well as balancing plenty of witty, humorous remarks, heartwarming displays of intimacy, and tragic moments that smart. The complexity of the interwoven relationships that build into the fabric of the hotel and the resulting search for Davy Lee demonstrate the sense of community that is created within the confines of the hotel and the extent the characters are willing to go for one another. Shifting the narrative between "then" in the New York City mafia scene and the "now" of the speakeasies around Portland, the story as presented by Nobody coalesces into a tableau of finding a family or community you belong to and with. Overall, I'd give it a 4 out of 5 stars.

The Paragon Hotel is one of the most original books I have read in the past decade. It is heartwarming, funny, and tragic all at the same time. This book puts you right in the middle of the action while jumping between multiple timelines. The books hops between the past in Harlem and the present in Portland where the main character, Alicia, is fleeing some heinous circumstances. All of the characters in this novel are engaging, but not without their flaws that really make this book rich. There are so many twists throughout this book that I don't want to divulge too much of the plot in the review. This book tackles some really big issues in some gentle and interesting ways. I really enjoyed it and will be recommending it to everyone. It is a well-written and well-researched story that left me wanting more.

The first pages had me hooked. The writing is sensitive, haunting and evocative. The character Max, I felt, was written a bit like Mammy in “Gone With the Wind”—sympathetic yet patronizing. I did not like the flashback back-and-forth; in this case linear storytelling would make more sense. Alice flees Mafia drama in NYC only to find racial drama in Portland. I liked the book and overall story, though some bits felt contrived.

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Random House for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the First to Read program. I thoroughly enjoyed this book! I would recommend it to anyone, especially people who enjoy historical fiction, particularly within the time periods of the 1920s and 1930s and within the setting of the U.S. It really takes you back in time. The writing style was excellent. Though I was definitely absorbed into the story from the beginning, I did have a slight bit of difficulty following at first, but ultimately really appreciated the detailed descriptions and changing POV, as well as the dialogue, which was well written to reflect deep emotion and the social climate of the time. The characters were rich as well as the plot, which made for very interesting revelations. There were so many intriguing layers within the plot, including cultural and social dynamics that added incredible dimension to the mystery of the story and brought an interesting perspective to well known events that I hadn't realized before. I would really like to listen to this via audiobook as I think it would be a great one. MY FAVORITE LINES: To be revealed upon final publication.

Based on Portland Oregon's historical Golden West Hotel, this fascinating novel is about a rough life for a young lady fleeing the illegal distribution of liquor in NYC during the roaring 20's. Miss Alice James is NOT a wholesome young lady. She has been wounded by a bullet in Harlem and has journeyed to a safer, but more racially segregated, residence at the Paragon Hotel in Portland. The author has a theatrical style of writing, sometimes chirpy and sometimes snide, making it a fresh, breezy read.

 


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