After a failed apprenticeship, working her way up to head housekeeper of a posh London hotel is more than Sara Smythe ever thought she’d make of herself. But when a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house The Dakota, leads to a job offer, her world is suddenly awash in possibility–no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America, where a person can rise above one’s station. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else . . . and is living in The Dakota with his wife and three young children.
In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey’s grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won’t see a dime of the Camden family’s substantial estate. Instead, her -cousin- Melinda–Camden’s biological great-granddaughter–will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda’s vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in . . . and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a madwoman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island.
One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective ages–for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the free-flowing drinks and cocaine in the nightclubs of New York City–and take refuge and solace in the Upper West Side’s gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich–and often tragic–as The Dakota’s can’t hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden–and the woman who killed him–on its head.
Y’all know how much I love a good past meets present/past influences present story and Fiona Davis’s The Address certainly delivered!!
The Address focuses on the lives of two very different women, Sara Smythe and Baily Camden, separated by a century, but connected through love, devotion, tragedy, and location.
Bailey Camden needs an outlet because going back to the drugs and alcohol just isn’t an option. With the help of her selfish and self-absorbed cousin, Bailey moves into the famed Dakota and begins a major remodeling project in her cousin’s apartment. Though her cousin’s apartment is going to be a garish example of design (not Bailey’s choice!) the rest of the building has such potential, such good bones, and a few older residents who remember the original days of the site. As Bailey gets deeper into the project, she also becomes far more interested in the history of the site and the people who originally brought the old girl to life. What she finds is as fascinating as it is disturbing and some of the information hits startlingly close to home.
A century before . . . .
When Sarah Smythe moved to the United States, she never imagined how high she would rise. Though her father was an English peer, Sarah is illegitimate which severely limited her future prospects. In a totally random twist of fate, Sarah meets Theodore Camden, the man who will bring her to America, put her in charge of the Dakota, and be the cause of her greatest love and greatest sorrow. From the beginning, Sarah embraces her role at the Dakota and hopes to see it become a New York landmark. As she becomes more intimately involved with Theodore Camden (note: he is married with a family!) Sarah begins to share his vision for not just the Dakota, but for architecture throughout the city. The two feed off one another intellectually and emotionally which makes for an excellent professional relationship and a quite messy personal relationship.
A century later . . . . .
With only a few solid and substantial clues and the verbal accounts of a few long-time Dakota residents, Bailey begins to piece together the horrifying story of Sarah Smythe and Theodore Camden. What she discovers is a passionate love mixed with betrayal, abuse, false accusations, yet another illegitimate child, and, eventually murder. What’s more, Bailey’s discoveries provide her a lifeline, a tangible reason to stay sober, and the prospect of a life with a caring man in a home she has come to adore. Proving her story and vindicating a woman from a century past isn’t going to be easy, but Bailey proves she is more than up for the challenge. The end results are so much more than Bailey could have ever asked and/or hoped for.
The Bottom Line: This is another one of those books with a star rating I just can’t understand. The Address is a fantastic historical fiction I can’t believe I left on my TBR list for so long! Not only is The Address an historical fiction (a favored genre!) but it also pulled me in with the alternating past and present chapters. I so love these types of books, especially when the author is particularly adept at weaving the two together into a coherent narrative. Though it doesn’t initially seem so, Bailey and Sarah are intimately tied to one another and as the story unfolds – in the same place it all began! – the connection between the two women becomes blatantly obvious. While I enjoyed Bailey’s chapters and her story, I much preferred Sarah’s chapters and the rich descriptions of the Dakota and Sarah’s life (good and bad) during the early years of the site. I’m adding The Address to my favorites reads of the year list and highly recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction as much as I do!