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Sister Noon

About the Book

Sister Noon

The fiction of Karen Joy Fowler has been hailed as "powerfully imagined and delightfully readable" (The Washington Post). The New York Times praises her "willingness to take detours, her unapologetic delight in the odd historical fact, her shadowy humor, and the elegant unruliness of her language." Now this critically acclaimed writer introduces readers to Lizzie Hayes, a remarkable heroine born into a wild, dazzling, unrestrained and uninhibited age that could not have existed at any other time in our nation's history.

San Francisco during the Gilded Age is a city bursting at the seams—a thrilling, electric, somewhat unsavory place of newly paved streets and cable cars running up and down Nob Hill, of unbridled egos and flamboyant ambition, of gentility, gossip, and greed…where great fortunes and dynasties are being built that will outlast many of the city's colorful, eccentric inhabitants.

A spinster just past forty, Lizzie is at once a part of and separate from, the city's dazzling vitality and ostentatious elitism. A devout, fiercely intelligent women given to ironic self-reflection and filled with hidden passions, Lizzie spends her days as a volunteer and treasurer for the Ladies' Relief Home, a refuge for the poor and displaced commonly called the Brown Ark. It is here that Mary Ellen Pleasant, the city's most scandalous benefactress, suddenly appears one day to deposit a little girl named Jenny. This brief visit becomes the catalyst for Lizzie's gradual transformation. She has never met anyone like Mrs. Pleasant. Or Madame Christophe, as she was known in her native New Orleans, where she was born into slavery. Or Mrs. Ellen Smith, as she called herself in 1852, a strikingly beautiful widow who would become as famous for her affairs, marriages, shocking behavior, and rumored voodoo powers as for her stunningly mismatched eyes. Lizzie, who is fat, unlovely, and unloved, is intrigued and excited by this fascinating woman who opens a window onto a world Lizzie has only read about, a world as much of the imagination and senses as it is of one firmly grounded in reality. For, as Mrs. Pleasant tells her, "You can do anything you want. You don't have to be the same person your whole life."

Karen Joy Fowler's most masterful achievement, Sister Noon, is a lush, stylistically daring, brilliantly realized portrait of a vanished era and an extraordinary woman that will shimmer and haunt readers long after the final page is turned.

Sister Noon
by Karen Joy Fowler

  • Publication Date: May 28, 2002
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Plume
  • ISBN-10: 0452283280
  • ISBN-13: 9780452283282