I was moderately impressed with local author Natasha Lester’s early novel If I Should Lose You, keeping in mind contemporary family drama has never been a favorite of mine. But her latest offering, A Kiss From Mr. Fitzgerald, is everything a feminist with a love of historical fiction could wish for. Evelyn ‘Evie’ Lockhart struggles with her desires to be more than the wife-and-mother model available for women in smalltown Massachusetts in 1922. One fateful day, she witnesses the tragic consequences of the disregard for the life of women, particularly those who have done their duty as mothers in giving birth and should promptly die from the effort. (And God forbid they not be respectably married.) Hygiene and postnatal care? Why waste the resources? And so begins Evie’s journey to become an obstetrician, obstructed at every turn by men (and women) who believe a woman’s place is in the home and will do everything in their power to maintain the status quo.
She is accepted into medical school in New York, but at the cost of being ostracised by her family, her fiancee throwing her under a bus and her own sister being quite happy to take her place as his fiancee and then wife. To fund her education, she joins the Ziegfeld follies and is exposed to a world far different to the one she grew up in.
It’s a fascinating look into the privilege of white men, and how ferociously they held onto that privilege. Lester has done considerable research into establishing a New York that was authentic for Evie’s time and place in society. Most of the doctors Evie encounters belittle her and sabotage her while happy to take the credit for the things she gets right. Evie’s ex fiancee/current brother-in-law Charlie shows up, so entrenched in his entitled thinking he believes Evie can be bought after the way he had previously treated her. The sense of entitlement is palpable.
I would have liked to have seen some of the characters get a greater comeuppance, particularly one doctor, Francis, Charlie and, to be honest, Evie’s sister Viola, who I would have liked to have seen suffer more. Or at least I would have seen more explanation into Viola’s reasons for doing what she did. I also understood that in the world she lived in, Evie had little choice but to take what karmic retribution that was meted out to her adversaries that she could get and was not in a position to call the men (and women) who had treated her so badly out on their behaviour, but it still felt somewhat unsatisfying.
However, this is a minor gripe compared to the richness of 1920’s New York that Lester has created and how well she captured the difficulties women faced in obtaining anything that resembled equal rights with men. I loved how Evie forged her own path, regardless of the scandal it heaped upon her, yet remained honourable enough to avoid heaping scandal upon others. It served as a reminder of how much women today owe the likes of Evie, fictional character or no, and it serves as a testimony to Lester’s talent that I kept thinking of Evie as a real person to whom we owed so much.