Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pg. 69: Karen Abbott's "Sin in the Second City"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Karen Abbott's Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul.

About the book, from the publisher:
Step into the perfumed parlors of the Everleigh Club, the most famous brothel in American history – and the catalyst for a culture war that rocked the nation. Operating in Chicago’s notorious Levee district at the dawn of the last century, the Club’s proprietors, two aristocratic sisters named Minna and Ada Everleigh, welcomed moguls and actors, senators and athletes, foreign dignitaries and literary icons, into their stately double mansion, where thirty stunning Everleigh “butterflies” awaited their arrival. Courtesans named Doll, Suzy Poon Tang, and Brick Top devoured raw meat to the delight of Prince Henry of Prussia and recited poetry for Theodore Dreiser. Whereas lesser madams pocketed most of a harlot’s earnings and kept a “whipper” on staff to mete out discipline, the Everleighs made sure their girls dined on gourmet food, were examined by an honest physician, and even tutored in the literature of Balzac.

Not everyone appreciated the sisters’ attempts to elevate the industry. Rival Levee madams hatched numerous schemes to ruin the Everleighs, including an attempt to frame them for the death of department store heir Marshall Field, Jr. But the sisters’ most daunting foes were the Progressive Era reformers, who sent the entire country into a frenzy with lurid tales of “white slavery”— the allegedly rampant practice of kidnapping young girls and forcing them into brothels. This furor shaped America’s sexual culture and had repercussions all the way to the White House, including the formation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

With a cast of characters that includes Jack Johnson, John Barrymore, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., William Howard Taft, “Hinky Dink” Kenna, and Al Capone, Sin in the Second City is Karen Abbott’s colorful, nuanced portrait of the iconic Everleigh sisters, their world-famous Club, and the perennial clash between our nation’s hedonistic impulses and Puritanical roots. Culminating in a dramatic last stand between brothel keepers and crusading reformers, Sin in the Second City offers a vivid snapshot of America’s journey from Victorian-era propriety to twentieth-century modernity.
Among the praise for Sin in the Second City:
“Delicious… Abbott describes the Levee’s characters in such detail that it’s easy to mistake this meticulously researched history for literary fiction.”
New York Times Book Review

“ Described with scrupulous concern for historical accuracy…an immensely readable book.”
— Joseph Epstein, Wall Street Journal

“Assiduously researched… even this book’s minutiae makes for good storytelling.”
—Janet Maslin, New York Times

“Karen Abbott has pioneered sizzle history in this satisfyingly lurid tale. Change the hemlines, add 100 years, and the book could be filed under current affairs.”
USA Today

“A rousingly racy yarn.”
Chicago Tribune

“A colorful history of old Chicago that reads like a novel… a compelling and eloquent story.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Read an excerpt from Sin in the Second City, and learn more about the book and author at Karen Abbott's website and her MySpace page.

Karen Abbott has worked as a journalist on the staffs of Philadelphia magazine and Philadelphia Weekly, and has written for and other publications.

The Page 69 Test: Sin in the Second City.

--Marshal Zeringue