Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Josie Moraine wants nothing more than to leave her past behind. Her mother works as a prostitute at Willie Woodley’s establishment on Conti Street in the French Quarter. Josie has been left to fend for herself because her mother didn’t want to be tied down by a child. Now she resents her for being a younger version of herself. Her dreams of college have been put aside as she works between cleaning Willie’s house of a morning and at Marlowe’s bookshop. Years ago, Mr. Marlowe made Josie a small apartment above the store for her to live in after he found her sleeping under his desk one morning. Now crippled by dementia, she helps care for him along side of his son, Patrick. She and Patrick keep some distance between them.

Josie’s mother met Cincinnati, a mobster, o the job. He had a thing for her and she fell head over heels for him. He showered her with gifts and said she reminded him of Hollywood starlet, Jane Russell. Josie and Willie despise Cincinnati. On his last visit to New Orleans, he beat up Josie’s mother and put her in the hospital. Willie ended up kicking in the door and Josie shot him in the leg. Josie so was galled that he had the nerve to show up at the hospital, she threw hot coffee on him. He left but not before promising to return. “Just you wait. I’m going to get you, Josie Moraine.”
Not wanting to be from two worthless parents, Josie keeps a list of names of men she meets that she wished would be her father. When a gentleman comes into the bookshop on New Years’ Eve to buy a gift for his wife, Josie is taken aback by him. She knows that he is a southerner but not from New Orleans. No, Memphis he says. A former Vanderbilt football player, he is in town for the Sugar Bowl. He picks out a book of Keats’ poetry for his wife and a copy if David Copperfield. He quotes Copperfield and makes a comment about his background being similar. Making conversation, he asks both of them if they go to Tulane. Patrick says he just graduated from Loyola but Josie remains quiet. Patrick tells him that the colleges are fighting over her. She is grateful. Carrying a wad of cash, Josie isn’t able to make change for him so he writes a check. She asks what he does and responds that he is an architect and developer. From his check, she later adds his name, Forrest L. Hearne, Jr. and other details to her list.
Josie and Willie are not happy to hear that Cincinnati is back in town. Her mother has once again fallen under his spell. Josie tries to stay under his radar, but isn’t successful when he threatens her in the bookshop. On New Year’s Day 1950, several things occur. Josie learns that a rich tourist died in a club down in the Quarter. She is saddened to learn that it was Forrest Hearne and sends Willie’s driver, Cokie, to find out what happened. She later learns that it was a heart attack. Josie then goes to clean up the mess at Willie’s. She goes to her mother’s room only to find it empty. Cleaning up, Josie finds a bullet. She takes it to Willie and tells her that her mother is gone. Willie places the bullet into the cylinder of her own 38 and lets her know that her mother has probably disappeared with Cincinnati.
Josie’s dream of leaving town and going to college is sparked even more when Charlotte Gates, a Smith College student in town visiting relatives, comes into the bookshop. After talking with Josie and Patrick for a while, she invites them to a party. She gives them the address and leaves. Josie is contemplating not going until Patrick tells her she can finally go to as party uptown that she is always reading about in the paper.
Josie meets with her mother at a diner. She is in a nice dress and covered with jewels that Josie knows are stolen. She has a dinner date with Cincinnati at her favorite restaurant that evening. Her mother is just letting her know that she is going to California with Cincinnati to become a star. She makes Josie promise not to tell Willie until after they have left the next morning. She doesn’t say a word when Willie asks her about their meeting later. At the party, Charlotte is welcoming but it isn’t long before her relatives are looking down at her. She and Patrick leave as a drunken woman begins sobbing about her cheating husband. Then she starts in about the heart attack story they told poor Mrs. Hearne. Josie is intrigued.
The next morning, Josie picks up a newspaper to take to Willie’s. The headline is about Hearne dying from a heart attack. The atmosphere at Willie’s is charged when she arrives. Willie is on a rampage. She has an appointment with her attorney that morning but she is more upset that Josie didn’t tell her that her mother was leaving. Willie screams that she isn’t taking her down and let Cincinnati fill her full of holes. She finishes tearing into Josie and leaves. One of Willie’s girls wants Josie to clean out her mother’s room so that she can move in. Josie realizes that she just wants to get out of New Orleans and go to Smith College.
While cleaning her mother’s room, Dora, another one of Willie’s girls, comes to talk with Josie. She lets her know that she cannot control her mother’s life. These are the decisions she has made. Josie needs to move on because everyone, especially Willie, knows that Josie is better. Josie confides her dreams of college but Dora isn’t very supportive. Dora leaves and Josie finishes cleaning under the bed. Her broom catches on a sock. It’s heavy and Josie shakes out whatever is inside. A gold watch falls out that is startling familiar. The back is engraved F.L. Hearne.
Can Josie get out of New Orleans and pursue her dreams of attending Smith College? Will Josie be able to avoid Cincinnati? What happens when her mother returns to town? How will Willie, her girls and the Marlowes impact her life? Was Forrest Hearne murdered and if so who did it? What part does his watch play in the investigation? What happens when the police question Josie? Will Josie be able to make something of her life?

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