Thursday, 18 December 2014

Lara's Library: The Abortionist's Daughter by Elisa DeCarlo

The Abortionist's Daughter      
by Elisa deCarlo

Please see the bottom of page for giveaway details

This book is dedicated by the author: “to the actors, actresses, vaudevillians and silent film players who entertained the world on stage and film in the 1910s and 1920s… and to the thousands of women throughout the early 20th century who did not believe that a better life was possible.”

 The Abortionist's Daughter is a novel set in 1916 and follows the life and adventures of Melanie Daniels, the prettiest girl in Muller’s Corners, a town of  New York, and daughter of the town’s doctor, who dreams of making a brilliant marriage. But scandal has doomed her dreams. Six years before the start of the story, a woman died while receiving an abortion from Melanie’s father, and now that “the killer doc” is back from prison, Muller’s Corners won’t forgive and won’t let Melanie forget her family’s disgrace.

This adventurous coming-of-age tale of romance and betrayal narrates the story of Melanie, a young girl in a backward town, whose grandiose dreams of a fairy tale life lead her away from her family’s dark secret and the shame she feels.

The book starts with a prologue that introduces Melanie and a man called James as they attempt to break into a summer cottage in the Adironack camps.  Melanie had barely known James for more than a week and he was already leading her into a dangerous and exhilaratingly daring adventure, exposing her to shock and embarrassment.

"She had wanted real life, but this was too real".  

But here, against the warning of her inner voice and the impulse to run away, Melanie stays. She feels hypnotised by James, a charming stranger who arouses mysterious new feelings in her.  This sets the premise of the book as a romantic novel with a social setting.

I was not sure I was going to like this novel because it is not normally the sort I would read, but it hooked me in from the first page. Abortion isn't really the main topic. The soul of the book in itself is about womanhood and the struggles of the times. Its overall message is for women to have a voice and to break free from the world’s unrealistic expectations. I enjoyed the atmosphere of early 20th century America, and the author stays true to the time and history. De Carlo's insight into the world and time of illegal abortions and the rights of women and contraception is clearly researched and delicately touched upon.

Written from Melanie’s point of view in a narrative form, the novel is written in four parts. I loved the writing style of the author, especially in her very clever use of choosing a later chapter in the book as a prologue. This technique sets the scene, giving valuable and interesting insights into the two main characters, Melanie and James, as well as a complete backdrop to the little town, Muller’s Corners. The narrative and colourful use of dialogue is wonderfully written and well researched in the novel's first parts. DeCarlo’s mastery of excellent dialogue, beautiful and colourful descriptions of the era, the fashion, food, music and films, Melanie’s hometown and then of New York City, had me hooked immediately with intense interest.

Melanie Daniels is a naïve, flawed, selfish and stubborn  23-year-old woman living in a place where the economy is dependent on the local papermill. Melanie had great prospects for marriage, despite believing that her father had ruined her life. Daydreaming about running away from Muller’s Corners, her books and movies and theatre magazines feed her starved inner nature, and fill her with

“optimism about life in a backward town, where her family had dropped from the upper tier of village society to the lower”.

Reading copies of Photoplay,  Melanie is filled with romantic dreams. 

“She wanted to be swept away, romanced, to be overtaken by a love so grand it would leave her altogether a different woman, a happy woman”.

The heroine is a girl ahead of her times in her hometown, yearning for a better life, like the ones that exist in those magazines she reads. She does not want to be trapped, unmarried and having to look after her parents. Melanie’s father, Horace, is like a walking ghost since the trial and her mother, Syrie,  a former dowager duchess of society, maintains an air of threadbare dignity despite her misfortunes. The plight of Melanie’s mother and father gives a strong background and insight into her oppressed life in a small town. She is desperately lonely. Constantly compared to her older sister Olive, she decides to leave town. In trying to get past her family’s history and to find a new role in life and society, she is swept off her feet by the aforementioned James, a much older, finely dressed, handsome man of her dreams, or so she thinks. James is an itinerant salesman. With an air of confidence, he encourages her to follow him to New York City. Melanie soon finds that her loneliness is quickly replaced with anticipation as they head towards the hustle and bustle of Broadway.

It is here on Broadway that Melanie discovers a brand new life and world of theatre, but all is not to last. She is abandoned by the man she knew as James and finds herself alone again, and in trouble.

Without giving too much more of the story away, despite all Melanie’s flaws and bad decisions, the betrayal by James and others, her unbeatable spirit and stubbornness, leads her to a new understanding of her own womanhood and her father’s crime. She triumphs against all odds and her own personal demons.

In part four, things slow down and I was not sure where the book was heading. I felt that I would have preferred a stronger ending, but the overall strengths of the book, the tremendous start, the wonderful character development and richness of the author's writing and storyline override this.

Although this style of book and genre is not something I would usually read, the book's description is what attracted me to The Abortionist’s Daughter. Overall, it is a well written book, and I would highly recommend it to lovers of the stage, and those out there who enjoy reading about early 20th century America.

Reviewed by Lara Salzano

About the Author

Elisa deCarlo was born in Westchester, NY, and grew up there and in New York City. As an actress, she has performed in television, radio and film. She has published two novels, Strong Spirits and The Devil You Say as well as The Abortionist's Daughter. Her humorous essays are also in a number of anthologies, including Life's A Stitch: The Best of Contemporary Women's Humor. DeCarlo has also written and performed a number of solo shows across the country. In 2015, the Exit Press will publish an anthology of her stage work.

She can be followed on Twitter and Goodreads and her books can be purchased on Amazon and Amazon UK.

Ms. DeCarlo is giving a copy of The Abortionist's Daughter away to one lucky reader. If f you would like a chance to win, please comment below or at this blog's associated Facebook thread.


  1. Lara's review has really enticed me with a need to read this book, so I will be placing it on my TBR list.

  2. I love this era, its a turning point in attitudes and fashion, although many still remain true to their conservative ideas. I think film changes a lot in respect of how life began being viewed. Lara thank you for working so hard on this review and you should be proud of your first piece. Well done and thank you to Ms DeCarlo (fantastic name) for the chance of a giveaway.

  3. This sounds like a really absorbing read! Definitely going on my wish list!

  4. Excellent review - covered all the salient points. I'll check out the book. Thank you Lara.