The clouds shifted, and the glow of sun brightened on my face. “But she's from a really wealthy family, a good family, and she's a freshman at Smith College in Massachusetts. She even flies a plane. Charlotte kept telling me that I should apply to Smith. I know it sounds ridiculous, me being able to go to a prestigious school like that, but she sent me all the information.”
Suddenly, the insanity of the whole thing came into focus, and I nearly laughed.
“But for some reason, I began to want it, really badly. I told Willie, and she was mad. She said I had to go to school here in New Orleans, that I was out of my league trying to get into a college like that.”
Willie Woodley, the madam who owns and officiates over a high class brothel on Conti Street in New Orleans loves Josie Moraine as only a mother can love a child, love that never came from Josie's mother. Set in the milieu unique to the fifties, Out of the Easy brings a flavor and cast of characters that only that time and place can offer.
The novel's setting and characters could have been a humdrum of stereotypes, but in the hands of gifted writer, Ruta Sepetys, who wrote the excellent Between Shades of Gray, it's the polar opposite.
Josie and Willie stole my heart. I cheered for them; shed a tear or two for them when I despaired for them; and most of all, believed in them.
Josie's mother, Louise, has no redeeming qualities. She's a prostitute with no qualms about who she uses for her own purposes, which is mainly to use others to get what she wants--money and things. At age seven Josie comes to live in Willie's brothel with her mother who has no consideration for what Josie will see or experience. This house frames its beguiling women in dark brocade curtains, crystal chandeliers and paintings on the walls of nude women with expansive nipples.
Josie much prefers the local bookstore. She wanders about the shop in awe of the many books that rise above her like skyscrapers. Charlie, the owner, notices this quiet child. He befriends her and by the time she reaches eleven, he's offered her a room in his attic. To Josie, it's a secret garden filled with the smell of paper, the whisper of pages turning and the kindness of a truly fine person.
Neither the kindness of Charlie nor the love of Willie will protect Josie from the inescapable reality of her life.