Review—The Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Callaway

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Callaway was a lovely book. In it, Callaway manipulates the history of Virginia Lynch (whom she remakes into Virginia—Ginny—Loftin), and weaves a story as heartfelt as the novel Ginny writes, The Web.

Ginny Loftin dreams of being a professional writer. She comes from a family of artists, her sisters gifted with talents for music, millinery, teaching, and of course, in her case, writing. She also loves her friend of many years, Charlie Aldridge, and believes they will be together one day as husband and wife, but then Charlie shatters her dreams of a life with him, and Ginny finds herself and her true purpose in the wreckage.

She sets her mind to writing her and Charlie’s story—and rewriting it countless times—until she can write the happy ending she wanted for herself. But as she grows as a writer, so her circle of friends grows to include John Hopper, and Tom and Lydia Blaine, members of the titular Fifth Avenue Artists Society (which is also referenced in the epigraph of the novel).

Ginny finds herself involved not only with John Hopper, but also with the mysteries within the Society, which threaten her livelihood as a writer, and also her family.

This lovely work of historical fiction combines the things I love the most: a strong, independent female protagonist, a historical setting, and rich lush descriptions, along with a bit of mystery. Callaway’s storytelling is precise and focused, and pulls from the interesting histories of her own extended family. I was enthralled not only by the relationships between Ginny and her family, but also the historical setting and what it implied for Ginny as a writer. She struggled repeatedly to have her work published, only to face obstacles so like those many writers face today: plagiarism, discrimination, and, of course, rejection. Along the way though, she got to meet Edith Wharton and Oscar Wilde, so I was a bit jealous. What I wouldn’t give, sometimes, for a time machine.

Jacket Copy:

The Bronx, 1891. Virginia Loftin, the boldest of four artistic sisters in a family living in genteel poverty, knows what she wants most: to become a celebrated novelist despite her gender, and to marry Charlie, the boy next door and her first love.

When Charlie proposes instead to a woman from a wealthy family, Ginny is devastated; shutting out her family, she holes up and turns their story into fiction, obsessively rewriting a better ending. Though she works with newfound intensity, literary success eludes her until she attends a salon hosted in her brother’s writer friend John Hopper’s Fifth Avenue mansion. Among painters, musicians, actors, and writers, Ginny returns to herself, even blooming under the handsome, enigmatic John’s increasingly romantic attentions. Just as she and her siblings have become swept up in the society, though, Charlie throws himself back into her path, and Ginny learns that the salon’s bright lights may be obscuring some dark shadows. Torn between two worlds that aren t quite as she d imagined them, Ginny will realize how high the stakes are for her family, her writing, and her chance at love.

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