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Brooke's Pick: The Divorcees by Rowan Beaird

Set in the glamorous, dizzying world of 1950s Reno, where housewives and movie stars rubbed shoulders at gin-soaked casinos, The Divorcees is a riveting page-turner and a dazzling exploration of female friendship, desire, and freedom.

When I saw the synopsis for Rowan Beaird's debut The Divorcees, I knew I had to read it. Having no knowledge of the Reno divorce ranches of the 1950s before reading this book, I found this novel to be entirely ingenious and intriguing. In case you are like me and had no idea that divorce ranches, designed around providing guests with a quickie divorce under Reno's 6 week residency laws, existed, this book provides a fascinating glimpse into our country's colorful history.


The Golden Yarrow caters to the "fallen" women of the upper classes. The wives and daughters belonging to prominent families who just couldn't cut it in their marriages. Often their spouses were unfaithful; perhaps they longed for a child that was never provided; or maybe they just wanted out. Regardless of the reason, the Golden Yarrow takes them in for a price, providing these women with a temporary home while they wait out the residency laws of Reno, which allow them a fuss-free divorce after residing in the city for 6 weeks.


Among those currently biding their time at the Golden Yarrow is Lois Saunders, a young woman looking to escape her loveless marriage. No longer under the thumb of her husband, Lois finds that the patriarchal power over her has transferred back to her father, who makes demands about how she spends her time at the Golden Yarrow and what she does with his money. Lois longs to live freely like the other girls at the ranch, but finds life on her own to be just as stifling as it was with her husband by her side.


But everything changes when a mysterious guest shows up at the Golden Yarrow in the dead of night. Greer Lang arrives with a black eye and a story that she keeps hidden from the other girls. Between taking her meals in her bedroom and not participating in the ranch activities with the other girls, Greer creates a whirlwind of excitement at the Golden Yarrow. Is she a part of the American aristocracy? Was she married to a business magnate or movie star? Just who is the enigmatic Greer Lang?


The girls will soon find out when Greer emerges from her room and turns the Golden Yarrow on its head. Greer pushes the soon-to-be divorcees to stand up for themselves and behave in ways contrary to their nature, or at least in contrast to how they've been born and bred. Lois, in particular, is taken under Greer's wing, and as she begins to determine what she wants for her life going forward, thanks to Greer's influence, she finds that her life might just be headed down a totally unexpected path.


The Divorcees is tour-de-force debut that effectively captures the often claustrophobic aura of what it meant to be a woman in 1950s America with few choices or prospects of her own. This book was so interesting to me; not only because it explored a subject I knew nothing about, but also because it demonstrates how much the world has changed in the last 75 years. While some women coming out of a marriage immediately sought another, there were others who maybe wanted something a bit different for themselves, as exemplified through Lois, a young girl yearning to break free from the societal chains bounding her in place.


While much of The Divorcees reads as a historical fiction novel, Beaird masterfully interjects an aura of mystery in her novel by way of the furtive, magnetic Greer, a bold woman standing in her own power. Beaird keeps the riddle of Greer's background alive throughout her book, not revealing all until the end when the pieces of the puzzle cleverly fall into place.


A commanding debut by an up-and-coming author, The Divorcees comes highly recommended for fans of the genre. - Brooke, Public Relations Librarian


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