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Sister Noon [Paperback]

Karen Joy Fowler
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 30 2002
Lizzie Hayes, a member of the San Francisco elite, is a seemingly docile, middle-aged spinster praised for her volunteer work with the Ladies Relief and Protection Society Home, or "The Brown Ark". All she needs is the spark that will liberate her from the ruling conventions. When the wealthy and well-connected, but ill-reputed Mary Ellen Pleasant shows up at the Brown Ark, Lizzie is drawn to her. It is the beautiful, but mysterious Mary Ellen, an outcast among the women of the elite because of her notorious past and her involvement in voodoo, who will eventually hold the key to unlocking Lizzie's rebellious nature.

Loosely based in historical fact, Sister Noon is a wryly funny, playfully mysterious, and totally subversive novel from this "fine writer" whose "language dazzles" (San Francisco Chronicle).

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From Publishers Weekly

Subtle undercurrents of race and class propel this intriguing novel laden with historic fact and fancy, mystery, voodoo, frontier rough-and-tumble and turn-of-the-century social conventions. The characters rooted in this rich, exotic loam are an unforgettable crop. In 1890s San Francisco, Lizzie Hayes is a 40-year-old spinster, the well-born volunteer treasurer of the Ladies' Relief and Protection Society Home, familiarly called the Brown Ark because of its "shipwrecked, random air, like something the tides had left. In this respect, it matched the fortunes of most of its residents." One day, the notorious, fascinating and possibly dangerous Mrs. Mary Ellen Pleasant arrives at the door of the Brown Ark with a girl, Jenny Ijub, a disturbing and winsome child, perhaps four years old, rumored to be the daughter of a mother buried at sea and an unknown father, though Lizzie suspects he could be rich and thus a valuable resource for the Home. Every character's tale is complicated, unpredictable and often engrossing. Mrs. Pleasant, for instance, is a former slave (or is she?), wealthy as a railroad baron, charitable, a witch and a legendary cook. Still beautiful at 70, she is a purported dealer in underground markets where sex, opium and even murder are for sale. Fowler (Sarah Canary; The Sweetheart Season) moves her principals through time and space seamlessly and gracefully, and exquisitely renders San Francisco as it grows from outpost to city. The temporal shifts and the unreliability of some characters' histories may be temporarily disorienting, but readers who bear with Fowler will be handsomely rewarded.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In Gilded Age-era San Francisco, fortyish spinster Lizzie Hayes is by any measure a good woman. She busies herself with worthy, conservative projects, especially her role as volunteer treasurer and fund-raiser for the Ladies' Relief and Protection Society Home. She does what is expected when it is expected. None in her circle suspects that a risk-taking spirit hides just beneath the surface. But when Lizzie crosses paths with the influential and notorious Mrs. Mary Ellen "Mammy" Pleasant, opportunities for intrigue, passion, and subversion abound, and Lizzie plunges in with enthusiasm. This witty novel is a deft blend of historical fact, urban myth, social satire, and romance. Fans of E.L. Doctorow and Fowler's previous fiction (Sara Canary, The Sweetheart Season, and Black Glass) will enjoy.
- Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
In 1894, Mrs. Putnam took Lizzie Hayes to the Midwinter Exhibition in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, where they both used a telephone for the very first time. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Maybe it's me, but... Nov. 15 2003
Format:Paperback
I found this book extremely boring. I forced myself to read the whole thing because I'm a San Franciscan, but I didn't even feel it captured the city well. I kept turning back to remember who characters were, and as far as the plot...uh...did something happen? The cover is the best thing about this book.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Poor writing technique Aug. 19 2003
Format:Paperback
I was very excited to start this book, due to the fact that I live in San Francisco and am always interested in my city's history.
However, I only got as far as the first few chapters due to the author's writing style.
Every sentence is a short one. She uses no tone variation. The narrator's voice is staccato. She writes like this.
And so on....
All writers know that you need to mix up your writing with a blend of compound and simple sentences to keep things fluid. But every sentence is about 5 words long, and I was totally put off by that. I skipped ahead to the middle and end of the book, just to test it out and see if perhaps only the introduction was written in this style, but it pervades the entire novel.
Oh well. I'm just surprised that so many people felt that it was 'fine writing' when it was clearly amateur. I was also surprised to see that this was not the author's only book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A quirky and enchanting novel... Feb. 11 2003
Format:Hardcover
At the center of Sister Noon is the intrepid Lizzie Hayes, a member of the San Francisco elite with a lively and compassionate heart. Lizzie serves on the board of The Ladies Relief and Protection Society Home, known as the Brown Ark, an apt description of its somber but sturdy façade. The Brown Ark houses children whose parents are unable to provide for their basic needs, such as food and shelter. In 1890's San Francisco, Lizzie dedicates her days to good works, a respectable and valued member of society.
When Mrs. Mary Ellen Pleasant requests Lizzie's aid in placing a young girl, Jenny, at the home, Lizzie finds the child a bed and anticipates no complications because of her generosity. As it happens, Lizzie is indeed called upon to account for her decision. Later, as Lizzie's questionable relationship with Mrs. Pleasant becomes grist for gossip, Lizzie's first inclination is accede to the ladies' demands and shun the infamous Mrs. Pleasant. Yet she grows more uncomfortable with this compliance and a small rebellion seethes beneath her outwardly placid demeanor.
As for little Jenny, a five-year-old child of questionable parentage, she is a convenient target for the petty meanness of the other girls at the home. As a result, the tormented Jenny longs for escape to a place of safety.
When Mr. Finny, a shady con man, contacts Lizzie Hayes, he insinuates that there is reason to doubt her own personal history and hints at a possible connection to Jenny. Seeking more specific information via the household of Mrs. Pleasant, a woman, after all, who is privy to many of the city's darkest secrets, Lizzie is further confused, but determined to unravel the mystery that confronts her.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding Oct. 25 2002
Format:Paperback
I knew two things after reading the first paragraph of 'Sister Noon': That I was about to depart upon a strange journey, and that I would enjoy every word. I was correct on both counts.
'Sister Noon' is set in late Nineteenth-century San Francisco. The Civil War has been over for several years, the local population has grown, and the city is just discovering its identity. Whether they know it or not, people are becoming prepared for the new century, hanging on loosely to old ideas and ideals and sometimes resisting new ones.
Lizzie works at a shelter for mostly orphaned children. Lizzie is the classic spinster: only in her early 30's, she is already an old maid in the social circles of San Francisco, with no hopes for permanent male companionship.
A different type of companion arrives in the form of a little girl named Jenny. Jenny is brought to the shelter by a Mrs. Pleasant, a strange, beautiful woman who is rumored to be a witch, a voodoo priestess, or something even more bizarre. The introduction of Jenny and Mrs. Pleasant causes Lizzie to examine her own life in ways she had never before imagined, and call into question beliefs that were formerly firmly planted in her being.
Fowler is a master of the economy of words. She gives us just enough description of the characters and their surroundings without over-doing it. She expertly introduces marvelous characters and situations that draw us deeper and deeper into the story until the final page. Fowler creates a world from the distant past that is both familiar and strange. Perhaps her sparse description makes us hunger for more. Perhaps it's the eerie mood she creates out of everyday events and objects. However you label it, Fowler's writing is magic and addictive. Don't be surprised if you find yourself under Fowler's spell, buying all of her books. And what a great spell to be under. Enjoy.
336 pages
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5.0 out of 5 stars enchanting! June 26 2002
By RC
Format:Paperback
I loved this book. It really draws you in in this wonderful and mystical mood that Fowler creates. I thought the development of the character throughout the book was enchanting and endearing. I was so sad when it was over, I loved reading it so much!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Lighthearted, Unconnected May 23 2002
Format:Hardcover
I just finished Sister Noon this morning, and do not know what quite to make of the plot. However, the writing style is superb. Right from the start I enjoyed Fowler's language. But I couldn't grasp the story line. I was never sure which direction we were headed, who the story would center, or even understand Lizzie's motivations. She seemed so wish-washy. I guess what this story boils down to is a spinster's life in 1890 San Francisco who is a treasurer of an orphanage. Life is typical and boring until along comes the city's most mysterious woman to give her an orphaned child. There is mystery regarding the woman, the child, and later her own family. I did not think that these were well connected, although in fact it was. And some things that had an air of mystery were seemingly very straight forward at the end (I don't like giving too much away).
This book was a fine read, however, don't go into it with high expectations.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Misses its mark
"Sister Noon" misses its mark. And I'm not sure I know what Fowler was aiming for. But despite the novel's failures in plotting and message, Fowler still creates an interesting... Read more
Published on April 22 2002 by Jay Stevens
4.0 out of 5 stars Love San Francisco, Loved this book!
I so enjoyed this book! I've lived in California, and in New York City. I've often wondered about how "self possessed" the people are in those areas. Read more
Published on April 9 2002 by "yaya2"
5.0 out of 5 stars A Dream Come True
You keep hoping you'll find a book that'll draw you in, enchant you, keep you enthralled until you finish the last word. This is that book. Read more
Published on Dec 16 2001 by Janine Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Ironically told tale of a woman in 1890s San Francisco
One of my most eagerly anticipated books this year was Karen Joy Fowler's new novel, _Sister Noon_. Fowler is one of my favorite writers. Read more
Published on Oct. 10 2001 by Richard R. Horton
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Evocation of Gilded Age San Francisco
Karen Joy Fowler's latest novel is truly a feast for the eyes. In her vivid, terse, yet lyrical, prose, she conjurs up a fantastic view of 19th Century San Francisco, as it evolves... Read more
Published on June 25 2001 by John Kwok
5.0 out of 5 stars FACT AND FANTASY BLEND IN A BEWITCHING TALE
Hugo Award winning author Karen Joy Fowler ("Sarah Canary", 1991) blends fact and fantasy in her bewitching third novel, "Sister Noon. Read more
Published on May 21 2001 by Gail Cooke
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare and speciaal reading experience
In 1890 San Francisco, forty-year old spinster Lizzie Hayes, daughter of a wealthy man, has made few friends even though she belongs to two churches and has been a member of the... Read more
Published on May 5 2001 by Harriet Klausner
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