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Sister Noon Paperback – May 28 2002

4.1 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons; Reprint edition (May 28 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452283280
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452283282
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.9 x 20.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 340 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,337,962 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover
"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 book that speaks out on all sorts of interesting subjects.
The story is really a collection of other stories - rumors, newspaper columns, hearsay, inuendo, and imagination - the only kind of information the novel's protagonist, Lizzie, can expect to receive as a spinster in nineteenth-century San Francisco. Lizzie becomes caught up in the apparent machinations of one Mrs. Pleasant, a mysterious mulatto who appears to have political pull and supernatural powers. As we learn, not is all that is seems. Fowler's conclusion - and a slap to the face of her readers - is to lambast her novel-reading Lizzie for not putting down her books and experiencing life. That is, talking with people.
Kinda makes me wish I hadn't wasted my time with "Sister Noon."
In the course of the story, Fowler brings up race, religion, mysticism, San Francisco politics, ancestor worship, motherhood, and children. Above all there's a message about women, a warning against confinement and imagination, and an encourgement towards self-assertion and independence.
The review, sounds harsh, so I'd like to give credit to Fowler for attempting something unique. And she does have a unique voice, despite some obvious flaws in her prose that belies a lack of editing, and not lack of writing skill. It's worth a read if you liked "Sarah Canary," or are willing to watch a writer engage in risky manuevers.
(By the way, Fowler doesn't seem to be very familiar with San Francisco. There were a few inaccuracies, especially in describing the weather. "Swirling fog"? The fog definitely does not "swirl" here. Also the scent of ocean and sand would not be found in downtown Geary -- it's nearly 6 miles to Ocean Beach from there, where the wind and fog typically comes from...)
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