The opening scene of Jamie Ford’s novel Love and Other Consolation Prizes introduces Ernest, an old Chinese Caucasian man standing outside the gates of Seattle’s Second World Fair. He is wishing that his wife, who barely can remember who he is anymore, could be there revisiting as he had spent the first World’s Fair with her and another arm in arm during their youths. It leaves the weight of his sadness and loneliness, wondering how he ended up there alone and what memories he was holding on to.
Ford, the New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Songs of Willow Frost, encapsulates the reader by going back and forth between Ernest’s childhood in the early 1900s to the present year of 1962. He is still adjusting to the new lifestyle with his wife’s disease and the resurfacing memories he had circling around his life from his mother in China, to his life at the brothel, the Tenderloin, after he was raffled off at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909 held in Seattle. Here, he fell in love with Maisie, the daughter of Madam Flora, who had everything that someone could want, and Fahn, a maid at the brothel who had nothing.
The structure of the novel with each scene leaves the reader wanting to know all of what just happened, to stay in the moment for just a bit longer. But just as Ernest is torn between the past and the present, they follow him through these times. As the novel grows, so does Ernest’s character through changing settings. Ford’s ability to make the audience feel Ernest missing his wife and being able to love the woman he knew is amazing. It leaves the reader feeling like they personally know Ernest as they were there during his sensitive and vulnerable times.
Smaller characters in the book also have a lasting impact throughout the novel. The second scene of the book briefly identifies Ernest’s mother and sets up Ernest’s desire for a home and a family. All the characters, including Professor True, Miss Amber, Madam Flora, and Ernest’s children Juju and Hanny, all work to reveal yet another part of Ernest’s story and to establish the first place he considered home. There is also Mrs. Irvine, Mrs. Blackwell, and Louis Turnbull, all of whom end up having a lot of impact on Ernest both directly and passively. Through these characters, Ernest is seen in the light of radical acceptance, strength, and compassion. One can feel this attachment even without knowing. The emotions—the hope, the happiness, the sadness, and the pain, all reveal the truth behind the raffling of a boy and the facts of society having everything, and everyone, for sale.
This novel has the power to reach a vast audience, from young adults to seniors, as there is much to experience in Love and Other Consolation Prizes. It is a romance built from the true historical event of a boy being raffled off at Seattle’s forgotten 1909 World’s Fair. The novel is a great way to engage with the history but also feel involved with the fictional characters Ford created through the realistic recreations of the times.
The reader might find themselves wishing for a longer time with Ernest’s wife in her older age, but this adds to the desire to read more to understand her character from her past. One might wish the book continued in its end, but this leaves space to imagine what might happen next. With an understanding of Ernest and the characters in their present, the reader might even find themselves wanting to read the book again, instantly, just to reexperience them all. Overall, Jamie Ford did a wonderful job emotionally pulling its audience into this story, making them not want to put the book down.
Readers can catch Jamie Ford in a series of local readings at these venues. Tacoma Public Library on Sept. 15, Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park on Sept. 16 and finally as part of West Sound Reads at South Kitsap High School in Port Orchard on Sept. 23.