Rare Objects, Kathleen Tessaro: Book Review

The elite are not all they’re cracked up to be.

rare objects kathleen tessaro book review
Rare Objects Book Cover Rare Objects
Kathleen Tessaro
Historical Fiction
Harper
2016
Paperback
378

Maeve Fanning is a first generation Irish immigrant, born and raised among the poor, industrious Italian families of Boston’s North End by her widowed mother. Clever, capable, and as headstrong as her red hair suggests, she’s determined to better herself despite the overwhelming hardships of the Great Depression.

However, Maeve also has a dangerous fondness for strange men and bootleg gin—a rebellious appetite that soon finds her spiraling downward, leading a double life. When the strain proves too much, Maeve becomes an unwilling patient in a psychiatric hospital, where she strikes up a friendship with an enigmatic young woman, who, like Maeve, is unable or unwilling to control her un-lady-like desire for freedom.

Once out, Maeve faces starting over again. Armed with a bottle of bleach and a few white lies, she lands a job at an eccentric antique shop catering to Boston’s wealthiest and most peculiar collectors. Run by an elusive English archeologist, the shop is a haven of the obscure and incredible, providing rare artifacts as well as unique access to the world of America’s social elite. While delivering a purchase to the wealthy Van der Laar family, Maeve is introduced to beautiful socialite Diana Van der Laar—only to discover she’s the young woman from the hospital.

Reunited with the charming but increasingly unstable Diana and pursued by her attractive brother James, Mae becomes more and more entwined with the Van der Laar family—a connection that pulls her into a world of moral ambiguity and deceit, and ultimately betrayal. Bewitched by their wealth and desperate to leave her past behind, Maeve is forced to unearth her true values and discover how far she’ll to go to reinvent herself.

This review contains quotes from the book

In Rare Objects, Kathleen Tessaro describes what it was like to live in the 1930s with a fresh perspective. Maeve Fanning, the narrator, takes readers through a time when she had to learn who she truly wanted to be.

In the beginning, we see Maeve struggling with the fact that she had to move back home after her time spent away. She is made to move home after her stint in a mental hospital because she tried committing suicide. Even though her reentry to New York has a huge impact on her throughout the rest of the story, we also understand that the city was not all it was cracked up to be for Maeve.

Maeve and her mother have had an interesting relationship; since her father passed away before she was born, she was raised solely by her single mother. All they had was each other. Even so, her mother does not know who her daughter is because of the secrets she keeps. This ends up putting a strain on their relationship because Maeve feels as though her mother would be ashamed of the person she’s become since her return to New York. But that something follows Maeve back to her home life in Boston. Though, you will want to read into that part yourself to know what it is that follows her.

“If only my experience in New York was what she thought it was.”

— excerpt from Kathleen Tessaro’s Rare Objects

An aspect of this book that I liked was the way Tessaro works with time-jumping and shifting from different periods. In one part of the book, you are in Boston, when Maeve is living with her mother; In another, you are with Maeve while she is living in NYC.

However, the majority of Rare Objects is told in present time. We learn Maeve is living in Boston and gets a job in an antique store, and this is where the past meets future. You see old characters from New York whose presence affects Maeve, even while she’s away in Boston. The book begins to pick up the pace after we learn what happened in New York, and of the people, she meets in the mental hospital. Tessaro does a good job with setting up the plot line by bringing back old characters and making them part of the climax.

But Maeve’s journey is not without purpose. While she’s living in New York, we about her ambitions and dreams of becoming a successful secretary. She graduated school with a secretarial degree and planned to move up the ranks at one company. But things do not turn out as planned because there are a lot of girls who had the same credentials and same aspirations as her. Struggling to find work and to make end’s meet, she becomes a taxi dancer. But after she lands this job, her life goes on a downward spiral. And at one point in the story, she decides that life is not worth living anymore, which explains how she ended up in the mental hospital. Tessaro is really good at making Maeve a relatable character because I felt her pain as I read more into this part of her story. I liked how I feel as if Maeve could be one of my good friends, if only she were real.

When she’s living with her mother, she gets this job at an antique shop that leads her to the most elite people in the Boston area. Of course, she is envious, because who wouldn’t want that life? But like everything else, that life comes at a cost. And that cost for Maeve will be her will to change herself completely. Caught up in the luxuries offered by the high-class, Maeve gets tangled up with this rich family who makes her want to leave everything she’s ever known behind. But the only thing is that these people are not reliable. We start to realize that Maeve has to decide whether or not she can life this life of uncertainty, and whether doing so will destroy her.

In my opinion, I think Maeve will regret this decision because she is going to look in the mirror one day and not recognize the person looking back at her. However, I do feel as though I, too, would want to be surrounded by this elite family because it gives off the illusion of a life like that being attainable to me. So, in that respect, I could understand why this was such a difficult decision for her.

In all, I would recommend Rare Objects to anyone looking for something out of the ordinary. This book made me look at the 1930s in a different way because I never knew what the social elite was like in Boston and New York. Maeve is also a very down to earth character in that she is relatable. Knowing the way she explains her thoughts really made it easier for me to sympathize with her.

“I had just enough ability to make my hubris seem like healthy ambition. Even after the Crash hit, I’d always landed on my feet in Boston; even been able to take my pick of jobs. I thought I could make it.”

— excerpt from Kathleen Tessaro’s Rare Objects

The quote above demonstrates how much of a real person Maeve is because she thought she would have a successful future living in New York but it was harder than she thought it would be. She is just like anyone coming out of school and trying to make something of themselves; she makes you see things through her perspective and that was really helpful and it was easier to understand why she made the choices she did.

Maeve Fanning will go down as one of my favorite characters of all time.


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Written by Jessica Duffield

I am a sophomore in college. Books are my passion and I hope to work in book publishing once I graduate.