Bachelor Girl by Kim van Alkemade

Bachelor Girl by Kim van Alkemade

Travel to the Jazz Age with Kim van Alkemade in her story, based on the life and times of Jacob Ruppert, owner of the New York Yankees and his life, and secrets surrounding a bequest.  Please read on for my review and an excerpt from

Bachelor Girl

In New York, everyone KNEW Jacob Ruppert: a successful businessman, owner of the Yankees and a touch eccentric is almost everything that the city celebrates. A brewer, a congressman, a colonel in the National Guard and a prodigious owner of the Yankees: acquiring Babe Ruth and building Yankee Stadium, there appeared to be no one who didn’t know him or those close to him. But when his will was read, there was a bequest to a Helen Winthrope that included half ownership in the Yankees – there was a mystery to unfurl.  And unfurl it we do as the author takes us through the story, told in two points of view from people who knew and befriended Jacob: Helen and Albert, Jacob’s personal secretary.

Slowly building to the climax, the story builds both characters and atmosphere gradually, allowing readers to immerse themselves in the lives, friendships, struggles and challenges of the place and day, while allowing for little nuggets of deeper secrets to be revealed. The question for all but Albert, Helen and Jacob himself is why Helen, relatively unknown and unremarkable young woman, living and supporting herself in the city, would receive such a generous bequest.  And there are secrets that Helen holds that were unknown to many, including her own family, for years. From bigger societal issues like racism, poverty, women’s rights, family planning and even the justice system, to personal choices about abortion, sexual freedom or even homosexuality, each element is handled with a feeling of possibility and plausibility: showing the characters dealing with the many inequities and difficulties that life in that time could bring. Of course, there are the reasons and rumors surrounding Helen’s windfall, and secrets of affairs that ignore the bone-deep loyalties that are found with these very different people, loyalties that appear to have started in chance encounters but quickly became choices of intimates who shared secrets, desires and even sorrows near equally.

None of the secrets are truly revealed or confirmed until the book is nearly at an end, allowing readers to piece together the who and the why, but the revelations as the story comes to unearth the secrets are fully realized in the carefully plotted and structured story. While issues aren’t always directly confronted, the sense of navigating what must have felt like a minefield for the three are clearly presented and dealt with, in ways that bring a sense of completion and progress to the reader.  A lovely story that transports readers to the 20’s while giving them a sense of the characters, now long gone, who once were living and breathing and as real as you or I.

Bachelor Girl by Kim van Alkemade

Title: Bachelor Girl
Author: Kim van Alkemade
Genre: Biographic / autobiographic, Historical Fiction, Jazz Age, Romantic Elements, Setting: American, Woman's Fiction
Published by: Touchstone
ISBN: 1501173340
Published on: 6 March, 2018
Format:eARC
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Pages: 416
Audio Length: 12 Hours: 16 minutes
Rated: five-stars
Get Your Copy: Amazon Barnes&Noble iTunes Kobo Downpour IndieBound Book Depository GoogleAudible
See this Title on Goodreads

From the New York Times bestselling author of Orphan #8 comes a fresh and intimate novel in the vein of Lilac Girls and The Alice Network about the destructive power of secrets and the redemptive power of love—inspired by the true story of Jacob Ruppert, the millionaire owner of the New York Yankees, and his mysterious bequest in 1939 to an unknown actress, Helen Winthrope Weyant.

When the owner of the New York Yankees baseball team, Colonel Jacob Ruppert, takes Helen Winthrope, a young actress, under his wing, she thinks it’s because of his guilt over her father’s accidental death—and so does Albert Kramer, Ruppert’s handsome personal secretary. Helen and Albert develop a deepening bond the closer they become to Ruppert, an eccentric millionaire who demands their loyalty in return for his lavish generosity.

New York in the Jazz Age is filled with possibilities, especially for the young and single. Yet even as Helen embraces being a “bachelor girl”—a working woman living on her own terms—she finds herself falling in love with Albert, even after he confesses his darkest secret. When Ruppert dies, rumors swirl about his connection to Helen after the stunning revelation that he has left her the bulk of his fortune, which includes Yankee Stadium. But it is only when Ruppert’s own secrets are finally revealed that Helen and Albert will be forced to confront the truth about their relationship to him—and to each other.

Inspired by factual events that gripped New York City in its heyday, Bachelor Girl is a hidden history gem about family, identity, and love in all its shapes and colors.

A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

 

 

Prologue: January 20, 1939

Steam heat fogged the tall windows as Albert and I joined the crowd assembled in the lawyer’s office. A clerk with a clipboard ran around, establishing that everyone listed in the will was in attendance. “Helen Winthrope?” he asked. I nodded. It felt strange to see him check off my name. I hadn’t expected Jake to leave me anything, not after all he’d done for me while he was alive.

Chairs had been arranged as in a small classroom. Albert and I exchanged somber nods of recognition with the members of Jake’s household staff as we found seats in the back row. Ahead of us sat managers from the brewery and the realty company and the baseball team. Representatives from Lenox Hill Hospital and the Metropolitan Museum, anticipating major gifts, tried not to look too eager. Up front, Jake’s brother, George, sat with his sons and nephews, black bands fitted around the sleeves of their jackets. I assumed the women, swathed in black crepe with starling feathers bristling from their hats, were Jake’s sister and his nieces. I’d never been in the same room with them before.

It took a while for the lawyer to read through all the small bequests, gifts of five hundred or a thousand dollars to the many people who’d served Colonel Jacob Ruppert so well. Besides his chauffeur, he’d made provision for his laundress and his cook, for the brewmaster who was his oldest employee, and for the zookeeper who’d cared for his many animals. Jake had disbanded his kennel of Saint Bernards years ago, selling off the breeding stock and retaining only a few aging show dogs as pets. The peacocks would be left to wander Eagle’s Rest, I supposed, the next owners of the estate forced to take them on. The monkeys would be going to the Bronx Zoo, I learned. Thinking of them reminded me of when my little dog Pip died. I’d wrapped his body in a blanket and rushed up the Hudson to Eagle’s Rest to show his corpse to the rhesus female who loved him so. I knew she’d never stop pestering me if she didn’t understand in her own way that he was dead. She’d reached through the bars of her cage and taken my limp Pip in her arms, mourning him like a lost infant.

I returned my attention to the proceedings at the lawyer’s office. Jake left his collection of Chinese vases and jade carvings to the Metropolitan Museum, as expected. The bequest of one hundred thousand dollars to Lenox Hill Hospital seemed unaccountably large, I thought, given their failure to cure the phlebitis that killed him. Mr. Nakamura was recognized with a bequest of five thousand dollars, a handsome sum for a butler. When the lawyer announced that Albert had been left ten thousand dollars I took his hand, delighted that his years of loyal service as Jake’s personal secretary had been so generously acknowledged. A man could buy a comfortable house on Long Island for less than that. My mind wandered as I pictured myself helping Albert pick out curtains and carpets. Perhaps we could plant a garden. I imagined a patch of grass bordered with tiger lilies and black-eyed Susans, an apple tree that would flower in spring and fruit in the fall.

“To Miss Helen Winthrope—” The sound of my name pulled me back to the present. “I bequeath my estate known as Eagle’s Rest, along with all associated properties and contents.”

My fantasy about a brick bungalow on Long Island evaporated as I tried to absorb the idea that Eagle’s Rest was mine. I couldn’t understand why Jake had picked me for such an extravagant inheritance. I thought back to that day we’d first seen the property, Jake telling me how he wanted a house of his own where he could be himself with his family and friends. A lifelong bachelor who’d outlived three of his siblings, he didn’t have much family, but Albert and I had tried to make up for it. I remembered standing beside Jake on the widow’s walk of the old Victorian he’d torn down to make way for his new mansion. That’s where we saw that eagle carry off its prey. We’d been speaking of my father’s death—it was coming back to me now—and I’d been so relieved to learn he hadn’t died alone. I supposed that was what Jake wanted me to think of, because it could only be symbolic, this gift. How could a single woman possibly fill fifteen bedrooms? Besides, there was no way I could afford the upkeep. I supposed I’d have to sell it, peacocks and all, though who’d buy an estate like that in this Depression I had no idea. Since the Crash, the market was glutted with the abandoned mansions of impoverished millionaires. In the end, my inheritance might not amount to much more than Albert’s.

“—the sum of three hundred thousand dollars.”

A collective gasp sucked the air out of the room. I leaned over to Albert, my voice a whisper. “What did he say?”

“Three hundred thousand dollars.”

“Oh, who was that for?” I’d thought the museum and the hospital had been the biggest legacies.

Albert searched my face as if some secret message were written on my skin. “You, Helen. It’s for you.”

All the heads of all the people in all the chairs turned toward me. The room began to blur. I shut my eyes tight and yanked them open again, testing to see if I were in a dream.

The lawyer cleared his throat, his mouth giving voice to Jake’s words. “As to the remainder of my holdings, including all my various enterprises, as detailed below”—his eyes swept down the document until they landed again on solid ground—“and in particular the New York Yankees baseball team, of which I have been sole owner since 1923, I direct it be divided between my nieces—” He paused to indicate two women, both married now and known only by their husband’s names. I shifted in my seat, assuming we’d reached the end of the will. But he had one more name to read. “—and Miss Helen Winthrope, in three equal shares.” He lifted his head and scanned the room. “Thus concludes the reading of Jacob Ruppert’s will. Bequests shall be distributed once the will has been accepted by the probate court. If you would be so good as to make sure my clerk has your correct address on your way out?”

I would have fled the room right then but Albert pulled down on my arm. I hadn’t realized I was still holding his hand, squeezing it, really. I was afraid his knuckles might have cracked. I stretched open my fingers and saw that they were shaking.

“If the principal beneficiaries could remain.” The lawyer raised his voice over the hum of conversation. “There are some matters to discuss.”

Jake’s black-clad relatives huddled around the lawyer’s desk. They must have thought I was a gold-digging hussy, this unrelated woman who’d usurped their inheritance. Who would believe, now, that I was simply Jake’s friend? My stomach churned. “Albert, I don’t think I can spend another second in this room.” I asked him to stay for me and find out what they wanted; people were so used to seeing the two of us together, I figured we were interchangeable.

I must have gone white as marble to have inspired his look of panic. “Of course, Helen, let’s get you home. I’ll come by after it’s all settled.”

I didn’t even notice Albert putting my coat over my shoulders or leading me out to the sidewalk. The next thing I knew, I was dropping into the backseat of a cab, my knees watery. I grabbed his lapel before he could close the door. “Did you know?”

“No, Helen. I promise, I had no idea.”

“Come over as soon as you can.” I lifted my chin for a kiss, his lips quick on my mouth. I was halfway across Manhattan before it occurred to me I couldn’t feel my toes. Looking down at my feet, I saw from the state of my shoes that I must have carelessly stood in a puddle of slush, though I had no memory of even stepping off the curb. By the time I got home, the cold had risen up my legs until even my neck was stiff.

I hoped Clarence would be in the lobby, but he was nowhere in sight. I went up to the apartment I still shared with my mother, even after all these years. She was waiting in the doorway. At the sight of my shocked face, she asked, “What is it, Helen? Didn’t he leave you anything?”

I hugged my mother tight, bracing her for the astonishing news that her spinster daughter had been transformed into an heiress.

 

 

About Kim van Alkemade

Kim van Alkemade is the author of the historical novels Orphan #8 and Bachelor Girl. Her creative nonfiction essays have appeared in literary journals including Alaska Quarterly Review, CutBank, and So To Speak. Born in New York City, she earned a BA in English and history from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, and an MA and PhD in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is a Professor in the English Department at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches writing.

 

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.