Paragon Hotel (Faye)

The Paragon Hotel 
Lyndsay Faye, 2019
Penguin Publishing
432 pp.

The new and exciting historical thriller by Lyndsay Faye, author of Edgar-nominated Jane Steele and Gods of Gotham, which follows Alice "Nobody" from Prohibition-era Harlem to Portland's Paragon Hotel.

The year is 1921, and "Nobody" Alice James is on a cross-country train, carrying a bullet wound and fleeing for her life following an illicit drug and liquor deal gone horribly wrong.

Desperate to get as far away as possible from New York City and those who want her dead, she has her sights set on Oregon: a distant frontier that seems the end of the line.

She befriends Max, a black Pullman porter who reminds her achingly of Harlem, who leads Alice to the Paragon Hotel upon arrival in Portland. Her unlikely sanctuary turns out to be the only all-black hotel in the city, and its lodgers seem unduly terrified of a white woman on the premises.

But as she meets the churlish Dr. Pendleton, the stately Mavereen, and the unforgettable club chanteuse Blossom Fontaine, she begins to understand the reason for their dread. The Ku Klux Klan has arrived in Portland in fearful numbers—burning crosses, inciting violence, electing officials, and brutalizing blacks.

And only Alice, along with her new "family" of Paragon residents, are willing to search for a missing mulatto child who has mysteriously vanished into the Oregon woods.

Why was "Nobody" Alice James forced to escape Harlem?

Why do the Paragon's denizens live in fear—and what other sins are they hiding?

Where did the orphaned child who went missing from the hotel, Davy Lee, come from in the first place?

And, perhaps most important, why does Blossom Fontaine seem to be at the very center of this tangled web? (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1980
Raised—Pacific Northwest, USA
Education—B.A., Notre Dame de Namur University
Currently—lives in Ridgewood, Queens, New York City

Lyndsay Faye is the American author of several crime novels with an historical-fiction bent. She was born in Northern California, raised in the Pacific Northwest, and graduated from Notre Dame de Namur University in the San Francisco Bay Area with a dual degree in English and Performance.

Her early career kept her in the Bay Area working as a professional actress, "nearly always," she says, "in a corset, and if not a corset then… heels and lined stockings." In 2005 she made the move to Manhattan to audition for acting jobs, working in a restaurant as her day job...until it was bulldozed to the ground by developers.

Sans restaurant job, and with more time on her hands, an initial foray into writing payed off. In 2009 Faye published her first novel, Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson. The book pays tribute to Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Watson, the duo whose adventures first captivated Faye as a child.

Faye's innate curiosity next spurred her to delve into the history of the New York Police Department, by which she learned that the department's founding coincided with the Irish Potato Famine in 1845. That research inspired her three Timothy Wilde novels—The Gods of Gotham (2012), Seven for a Secret (2013), and The Fatal Flame (2015). The novels follow ex-bartender Timothy Wilde as he learns the perils of police work in a violent and racially divided city during the pre-Civil War era.

Her next novel Jane Steele, released in 2016, re-imagines Jane Eyre as a gutsy, heroic serial killer who battles for justice with methods inspired by Darkly Dreaming Dexter.

Faye has been nominated for an Edgar Award, a Dilys Winn Award, and is honored to have been selected by the American Library Association's RUSA Reader's List for Best Historical. She is an international bestseller and her Timothy Wilde Trilogy has been translated into 14 languages.

Lyndsay and her husband Gabriel live in Ridgewood, Queens, a borough of New York. They have two cats, Grendel and Prufrock. She is a member of Actor’s Equity Association, the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, the Baker Street Babes, the Baker Street Irregulars, Mystery Writers of America, and Girls Write Now. And always, she is hard at work on her next novel. (Adapted from the author's website.)

Book Reviews
[E]xuberant and weighty…. What starts as a bit of a Prohibition-era crime romp becomes increasingly relevant as issues of mental illness, race, and gender identity take on greater significance.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review)  Faye has meticulously researched the racial tensions and social culture of 1920s Portland, basing the Paragon Hotel on the real Golden West Hotel. Her prose is lush with details, from rich descriptions of the hotel rooms [to] a diva's Paris gown. —Jennifer Funk, McKendree Univ. Lib., Lebanon, IL
Library Journal

(Starred review) Faye once again vividly illuminates history with her fiction.… [R]emarkably fluid fiction, framed as a love letter and based in fact.

This historical novel, which carries strong reverberations of present-day social and cultural upheavals, contains a message from a century ago that's useful to our own time: "We need to do better at solving things." A riveting multilevel thriller of race, sex, and mob violence that throbs with menace as it hums with wit.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. While Americans study the South’s Jim Crow laws as part of U.S. history, fewer people are aware that the Pacific Northwest was envisioned by many of its settlers as a whites-only utopia, a place that would remain free of crime as long as it remained free of people of color. Did this information surprise  you? Due to Oregon’s geography, did you expect its founders to hold more open views regarding race?

2. Jazz music is what first brings Alice and Max together, and mixed-race nightclub during the Prohibition era were regarded by many social reformers as being a key positive catalyst in breaking down color lines. What is your favorite musical style? Have you ever connected with someone who  had a very different upbringing because you enjoyed the same music? Do you see music (or art or performance) as a way of relating to complete strangers?

3. Immediately following the importation of the Mafia from Italy to New York City, the Five Families unleashed terrible violence against their fellow immigrants and exerted tremendous control over local politics and commerce. Alice remarks wryly at one point that it’s difficult for her to understand whites abusing blacks, since Italians so strongly preferred to abuse one another (as did the Irish and the Yiddish gangs of New York). In your  experience, or in your family history, was your culture more in danger of being terrorized from within or from without?

4. Identity and the ability to know oneself are major themes in this novel, especially as the friendship between Blossom and Alice develops. How well does Blossom know herself? How well does Alice? Are they ever wrong about themselves, and how does each woman help the other to see herself in a  different light? Do you think everyone keeps profound secrets, or do you find the two women remarkable in this regard?

5. Substance abuse affects many of the characters in The Paragon Hotel. For example, when heroin was first introduced by Bayer, it was marketed as cough syrup, and Prohibition led to many deaths caused by illegally produced alcohol that was tainted with other chemicals. How many addicts can you identify in the book? To what extent could Blossom be considered one? Why or why not? Did the heroin epidemic of that time period remind you of oxycodone or Oxy-Contin abuse in America today?

6. Nicolo Benenati’s last name translates in Italian to "born good." How far do you think a person’s character can be warped by tragic circumstances? Do you think that he really was born good and then corrupted, or do you think that Nicolo must always have been somewhat unstable? Why or why not? Mr. Salvatici also commits atrocities in the novel, though largely off the page. Did you sympathize with him after his own family tragedy was revealed, or did you continue to denounce his choices? Why or why not?

7. The Ku Klux Klan experienced a massive swell in their numbers during the uncertain years following World War I, a time when women’s roles were changing rapidly, immigrants were arriving in unprecedented numbers, and African Americans were migrating into new neighborhoods. The Klan’s terrible influence was strongest not only in the South, where many people of color resided, but also in suburban areas that were already completely dominated by white Protestants. Why do you think that might have been? Blossom argues with Jenny that it doesn’t matter how genteel and sophisticated the black population appears; they will never be fully accepted by whites. To what extent was she right or wrong?

8. While the concept of feminism has existed for as long as females have, Prohibition was the backdrop for massive sea changes in the realm of women’s rights. As a result, for the first time, the playing field was leveled, since alcohol was now illegal for everyone: women drank in private clubs, smoked in public restaurants, cut their hair, married later, worked a wider range of jobs, and were allowed to vote. How do you imagine you would have reacted to all the upheaval? Would you have marched with the suffragettes and teetotalers, caroused with the flappers, or sat at home by the fire with a good book? Would your family have approved of you? Why or why not?

9. There is a wide spectrum of love in this novel—romantic love, sisterly love, twisted love, familial love, and love of community, to name a few. Which relationships affected you the most, and why did they draw you in? Is it more important to you to have a close-knit group to rely on or one special person who understands you better than anyone else? Did you see any of your own relationships reflected in these characters, and if so, which were they?

10. To what extent did the setting affect the characters in The Paragon Hotel? Did the starkly urban, multicultural concrete jungle of New York seem more familiar to you than the lush, rain-soaked woodlands surrounding Portland? To what extent might the Step Right Inn, the Hotel Arcadia, and the Paragon Hotel be thought of as characters in this book? Have you ever stayed in a hotel that left a lasting impression on you, and if so, where was it and what was it like? What happened to make your visit memorable?

11. Most of the people in this novel believe in some form of spirituality or the supernatural. Alice mingles Catholicism with superstitions, Mavereen is a staunch Christian, Blossom has a whimsical attitude toward Fate and "lost pennies," Evelina seems to own slightly mystical qualities, Wednesday Joe puts all his trust in luck, and Jenny Kiona holds deep respect for her own Native American roots. Do you believe in higher powers? If so, what kind, and what form does that belief take?

12. Seeing more of the world changes many people in this book, including Alice, when she takes refuge in Portland. How does leaving New York, where she has spent her entire life, alter her? Dr. Pendleton and Maximilian both served in World War I—what marks did their experiences leave on them? Mavereen and her late husband migrated to Portland from Georgia—how did this affect them? Max and Blossom others enjoyed a wider range of freedom and pleasure in Paris than in America. Evelina went away to college. Is travel important to you? Why or why not?

13. Alice’s powers of disguising herself depend a great deal on her wardrobe. To what extent is clothing important to her? How does it keep her safe? How and when does a character’s garb determine her class or the extent of her power? Can people really change themselves by changing their style? Blossom uses artful makeup and glamorous gowns as both weapons and shields. Do you choose clothing more for expediency, or do you ever manipulate what you’re wearing to give others a different impression of you?

14. While The Paragon Hotel has a definite ending, the fates of many of the characters remain unclear and fraught with danger. What do you imagine happens to Max and Alice afterward? Or to Wednesday Joe, and Jenny? Rooster and Miss Christina? What do you imagine becomes of Blossom and Evelina, and what do you see when you picture Davy Lee as an adult? If it interests you, try sketching out their later lives as a writing exercise.
(Questions issued by the publisher. See the Book Club Kit.)

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