The Way of Beauty
By Camille Di Maio
Author’s website: camilledimaio.com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
Hearts and dreams evolve in the shadow of the once-magnificent Penn Station.
Vera Keller, the daughter of German immigrants in turn-of-the-century New York City, finds her life upended when the man she loves becomes engaged to another woman. But Angelo Bellavia has also inadvertently opened up Vera’s life to unexpected possibilities. Angelo’s new wife, Pearl, the wealthy daughter of a clothing manufacturer, has defied her family’s expectations by devoting herself to the suffrage movement. In Pearl, Vera finds an unexpected dear friend…and a stirring new cause of her own. But when Pearl’s selfless work pulls her farther from Angelo and their son, the life Vera craved is suddenly within her reach—if her conscience will allow her to take it.
Her choice will define not only her future but also that of her daughter, Alice.
Vera and Alice—a generation and a world apart—are bound by the same passionate drive to fulfill their dreams. As first mother and then daughter come of age in a city that is changing as rapidly as its skyline, they’ll each discover that love is the only constant.
The eagles. There were 22 of them on the roof of Manhattan’s Penn Station, majestic guardians of the neighborhood. Eagles that could stand the test of time. They could be counted on to be there forever. That’s how Vera Keller feels when she sees the eagles.
The Way of Beauty is an excellent historical women’s fiction novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. It shows the strengths of our ancestors who came here from other countries and eked out a living in a new land. The characters are very likable, the plot is captivating, and a piece of Manhattan’s history comes to life. I appreciated the “Author’s Note,” telling how this novel came to be, its sweet beginning blossoming into a historically relevant work of women’s literature.
Vera’s life has been anything but stable so far. Yes, she has her parents and they loved each other. They immigrated from Germany when she was very young, at the turn of the 19th century. Her mother went to work at a shirtwaist factory when she started kindergarten. When Penn Station was going to be built, the tenements, brothels, and bars of the Tenderloin were demolished, giving people like the Kellers less than 24 hours’ notice to vacate.
Vera was 17 when she and her father could move to a 5th floor, one bedroom apartment in a building without elevators. Her mother had already passed, literally exhausted from factory work. Her father had the bends from working under the East River to help dig tunnels for the railroads. Vera is his only caregiver through excruciating pain, paranoia, or memory loss.
Vera has one constant. Angelo’s family runs the newspaper stand that is outside Penn Station. He was a big brother to her when she was six and had scraped her knee. Nine years her senior, he looked at her as a little sister or best friend, even when she fell in love with him as a teen.
It is a mixed blessing when Angelo introduces her to Pearl, a beautiful young woman from one of the wealthier families in the city. The woman he is going to marry. Pearl later seeks out Vera, offering her a job. A widow, she is mother to a five year old son, William, and wanted Vera to become a nanny. Pearl is a dedicated suffragist, spending many hours away from home. She wants someone trustworthy to care for William and it allows more time for Vera to care for her father. Even though she would have to see Angelo, her father’s care is more important.
Decades later, Vera’s adult daughter, Alice, goes to college at night and helps care for her grandfather. They live in an apartment across from Penn Station where they can see the eagles, and where Angelo now has an indoor kiosk for the newspaper stand. Her feelings for Penn Station and its eagles are similar to Vera’s. Alice meets a young man there, Emmett Adler. He appears to be a photographer, but he has an air of danger as well as passion. She meets Pearl’s now-adult son, William, who is completely captivated with her. WWII is making changes around the globe, and it is hard to know who to trust, and who her heart will be safe with.
The characters are defined with excellence, just the right amount of information to win the heart of this reader. I can’t choose one favorite, as there are five who kept me turning the pages. Even when I didn’t understand some of their actions, I could understand the drive and desire behind them. I would have enjoyed getting to know Alice and William much better.
What appeals to me most about the novel, besides the characters, are the historical events and changes from one generation to another even though I missed seeing their lives in 1950’s and early 60’s. Vera and Angelo grew up through hard times, as did Vera’s parents, as immigrants. Their backgrounds are so different from Pearl, who saw women’s needs and fought to right them, and Alice, whose plans for her future have been paved by earlier generations. I very much appreciated Alice’s desire to be an architect and why; hers is a journey I would love to have seen more of. Penn Station, central to the story, with all of its elegance, significance, and the eagles, holds a place in these character’s lives, and I had to search online to learn more about the eagles. I highly recommend this novel to women who enjoy 1900’s historical novels.