Jamie Ford’s new book Love and Other Consolation Prizes is a trip down the midway of two separate World’s Fair celebrations, in 1909 and 1962 Seattle, which both figure in the plot. Like Ford’s other books, it’s told from the viewpoint of a Chinese American boy. In this case, our hero is Ernest Young, whose mother sells him to American traders planning to ship him to Seattle.
Ernest struggles to find his place in the world until he’s auctioned off as a “healthy young boy” by the orphanage where he lives. Although not what the upstanding Christian women expected, the winning ticket is held by the notorious Madam Flora, owner of a high-class brothel. Ernest is the new houseboy, and makes fast friends with Maisie and Fahn, two other young members of the household.
The story is told in alternating time frames, combining Ernest’s younger life and his retelling to his journalist daughter. Ford immerses the reader in another time and place, with evocative descriptions that make Seattle practically a character in the story.
Ford also takes up his previous theme of kids caught in a cultural crossfire. In this case it’s crossfire of suffragists and other religious zealots against the red-light district businesses and patrons. It’s also the question of whether immigrants retain their cultural identity as they assimilate. Ford treats these themes with delicacy and sensitivity.
Ernest is the kind of earnest young man (wow – lots of puns there!) who wears his emotions on his sleeve. He desires a better life, and a companion with which to share it. But most of all he longs for love, having left all family behind in China. He finds home and family at Madam Flora’s, but love is complicated, especially in a Jamie Ford novel.
I’ll be thinking of Ernest and his Seattle compatriots for some time to come.
Thanks to NetGalley, Random House Publishing Group, and Ballantine Books for the opportunity to read a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.