Review: Etiquette For Runaways by Liza Nash Taylor

☆☆➹⁀☆ 4.5 stars ☆➹⁀☆☆

About the Book:

1924. May Marshall is determined to spend the dog days of summer in self-imposed exile at her father’s farm in Keswick, Virginia. Following a naive dalliance that led to heartbreak and her expulsion from Mary Baldwin College, May returns home with a shameful secret only to find her father’s orchard is now the site of a lucrative moonshining enterprise. Despite warnings from the one man she trusts—her childhood friend Byrd—she joins her father’s illegal business. When authorities close in and her father, Henry, is arrested, May goes on the run.

May arrives in New York City, determined to reinvent herself as May Valentine and succeed on her own terms, following her mother’s footsteps as a costume designer. The Jazz Age city glitters with both opportunity and the darker temptations of cocaine and nightlife. From a start mending sheets at the famed Biltmore Hotel, May falls into a position designing costumes for a newly formed troupe of African American entertainers bound for Paris. Reveling in her good fortune, May will do anything for the chance to go abroad, and the lines between right and wrong begin to blur. When Byrd shows up in New York, intent upon taking May back home, she pushes him, and her past, away.

In Paris, May’s run of luck comes to a screeching halt, spiraling her into darkness as she unravels a painful secret about her past. May must make a choice: surrender to failure and addiction, or face the truth and make amends to those she has wronged. But first, she must find self-forgiveness before she can try to reclaim what her heart craves most.

✦.•°*°•.✦My Thoughts ✦.•°*°•.✦

Liza Nash Taylor’s debut novel, Etiquette for Runaways is an easy-to-read historical fiction. Ms. Taylor definitely has a knack for storytelling that hooked this reader into spending an entire day reading.

Etiquette for Runaways is set in the early 1920s, and it greatly features the jazz age and prohibition.  The historical basis is clearly well researched, and the author acknowledges all the time line changes she made when creating this work of fiction.  Ms. Taylor touches on many historic issues and happenings of the era, but some are just tangents that readers may miss if they’re not already aware of the historic event or mores. 

All of the characters in this book are interesting.  Even the secondary characters are richly layered.  I found it interesting that the more significant characters in this book are generally laden with baggage and make supremely bad decisions.  They’re not victims, they bring on their own bad fortune.  On the other hand, the secondary characters are generally portrayed as more moral and ethical.  Their faith and loyalty are obvious throughout the story.

At the center of the story is May Marshall.  Her primary antagonist is herself, or at least, her self-image. As the narrator, her bias does not make her totally unreliable. Her self-esteem issues are easy to identify, and that makes her a little more empathetic; however, her propensity to make bad choices eventually made it hard for me to care for her.

“The world was a big place, full of mistakes just waiting to be made, but maybe, she thought, just maybe, there were some second chances too.”

I enjoyed the story immensely.  The vivid imagery took me back in time through apple orchards in Virginia to the glitz of New York City and the glamor of Paris. While I found May’s string of bad luck and poor choices to be plausible, some of her luck was a stretch for me. Ms. Taylor’s ambiguous yet hopeful ending surprised me and left me with the feeling that May Marshall had finally figured life out.

About the Author: The farmhouse where Liza Nash Taylor lives in Keswick, Virginia, with her family and dogs was built in 1825, and it is the opening setting of ETIQUETTE FOR RUNAWAYS. She writes in the old bunkhouse, with the occasional black snake and a view of the Southwest Mountains. In 2018, Liza completed the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Art and was named a Hawthornden International Fellow. She was the 2016 winner of the San Miguel Writer’s Conference Fiction Prize. Her short stories have appeared in Microchondria II, (an anthology by the Harvard Bookstore), Gargoyle Magazine, and others. ETIQUETTE FOR RUNAWAYS is her first novel. Look for her second, a stand-alone sequel, in 2021, also from Blackstone Publishing.


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