“A Certain Age” by Beatriz Williams is part mystery, part historical, and part romance that is based upon Richard Strauss’ opera, “Der Rosenkavalier.” It has a gripping plot involving family secrets, an unsolved murder, intrigue, and scandal during the l920s. The title is a metaphor for the time period and the age of each character that is very relevant to the storyline.
The narrative alternates between the perspective of Sophie Fortescue and Theresa Marshall with each chapter beginning with a quote from the actual journalist and humorist Helen Rowland. As the story unfolds readers understand that socialite Theresa, age 44, is having a love affair with Captain Octavian Rofrano, a handsome twenty-two year old aviator and hero of World War I. She enlists him to act as her brother’s cavalier to present the family’s engagement ring. After meeting Sophie Octavian becomes enthralled with her. With the love triangle progressing the saga emphasizes divided loyalties, dangerous revelations, and surprising twists.
Williams once commented that she wants to make her characters interesting with a likeable and unlikeable side. She has certainly achieved her goal in this book.
Octavian is honorable and loyal, yet appears to be somewhat of a “wus” in the relationship with Theresa. He allows her to take complete control and while professing his love for her falls head over heals for Sophie.
She wrote him as a hero who “sacrificed for his country and had to deal with the fact that many of his friends died in the war. An aviator in WWI has a life span of about six weeks. He had survivor’s guilt. He understands he has the power to walk away, but would never do that because it would break his code of loyalty, obligation, and honor. He loves Theresa because she needs him and has brought him back to life. Theresa’s hurt heals through the love of Octavian while his war wounds heal through her. The challenge is making readers understand the dynamics of each relationship.”
Theresa has had a hard time in her life, forced into a marriage at a young age, having her husband cheat on her from day one, has a still born daughter, and loses her favorite son during WWI. But she is also very manipulative and controlling. It seems that Octavian to her is no more than a plaything as she calls him Boyo, never by his name, and orders him around as if he is her servant.
Williams wanted, “readers to sympathize with her. She has iron around her heart because she has been hurt over and over again. The shield she hides behind is to appear uncaring. Her emotional intimacy is expressed through sexual intimacy with Octavian. She needs to be in complete control of their complicated relationship.”
Sophie is an innocent, gutsy woman who strives for independence and symbolizes the women of that era who challenged the role society has pigeonholed for them.
An added bonus Williams has become known for are the descriptive and detailed happenings of the 1920s, which add depth to the story. Through the characters people see the conflict between old and new money, the demeanor of Ty Cobb, the famous horse Man O’ War, as well as the growing importance of the new technologies, the automobile and airplane.
Coming from a middle class life in suburban Seattle, Williams commented to blackfive.net, she went “on vacation with her family to Oregon for the Shakespeare festival. It was a very absorbing experience with my parents always coaching us about the plays so we knew what is going on. Since my parents had intellectual interests and were not into the pop culture it made it hard for me to relate to people growing up. Now as an adult I look on it as my secret weapon. I love Shakespeare and operas and I don’t care if that makes me a geek. I feel very fortunate because it helped influence my writings. Anyone who pays attention to Shakespeare sees the relationship conflict, which is the centerpiece for my books, when characters are placed into emotional jeopardy.”
Those who read her books will never be disappointed. She creates a suspenseful plot with characters that are three-dimensional.