Laurel Millard dreams of a husband and family of her own, but her older siblings have decided it will be her lot to take care of their mother. Hoping to find a man who’ll agree to take on that responsibility, Laurel interviews for a position at the International Cotton Exposition in 1881 Atlanta. In the silk-weaving room, she puts her skills to use and keeps her eyes open for a man of character.
Langdon Rochester has never been good enough for his father. Now that he’s twenty-three, he must prove he’s competent enough to manage the family factory and dependable enough to attract a suitable wife. He offers to man the Rochester steam engine booth at the Atlanta Exposition, hoping that the crowds will produce a young woman pretty enough and compliant enough to fit the bill as the future Mrs. Rochester.
Willie Sharp has been working in the Rochester factory since his late teens, trying to earn extra money to put his father in a convalescence hospital after his debilitating stroke. When the opportunity comes to earn extra as a security guard at the Exposition, he jumps at it. Booker T. Washington give the keynote address on the importance of blacks and whites working together in harmony, but the ugliness that Willie sees at the Exposition shows that this harmony is little more than a fairy tale. Should Willie speak up for the injustice he sees, even at the risk of losing his position as guard in the silk room?
This book is an intriguing look at racial tensions in post-Civil War Atlanta. The highly-segregated society shows that the Emancipation Proclamation has failed to produce equality in the South. Willie’s black friend Quincy struggles with rage and resentment at the unfair treatment he receives. Laurel experiences confusion about the cavalier manner in which the Rochesters’ black servants are treated. Langdon epitomizes the privilege of the rich, white class toward those they consider beneath them. I tend to enjoy novels with a less overt “message,” but despite the lack of subtlety, there was still enjoyment to be found in the story and the atmostphere of the Atlanta Exposition.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.