Book Review: My Notorious Life by Kate Manning
by Kate Manning
I read this book immediately after I read The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. What a contrast. Strout’s characters were unhappy and unlikable comfortably well-off people. Kate Manning’s characters were positive and likable impoverished people. I struggled through The Burgess Boys. I delighted in every page of My Notorious Life.
Manning’s inspiration for My Notorious Life was a real-life female physician who became known as “The Wickedest Woman in New York.” In Manning’s version, the heroine is Annie (Axie) Muldoon. She is born into 1860s New York City as the child of desperately poor Irish immigrants. When her father dies and her mother is maimed in an accident, Axie, her sister, Dutchie, and her baby brother, Joe, end up on an orphan train as part of the Western Emigration Program.
The trajectory of her life leads her to mistrust men, to confront the “complexities” of women’s rights, especially reproductive rights, and to accumulate wealth and controversy in equal measure. Axie Muldoon becomes Madame DeBeausacq, a woman who compassionately does what she believes is right even when it’s illegal and risky.
This puts her on a collision course with Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. He, too, does what he believes is right even when it’s illegal and risky.
The result is a story that resonates with the solar plexus. Manning explores family dynamics, love, feminism, reproduction, money, class separation, ethical dilemmas and marriage. Her story is harrowing and fun, heartbreaking and uplifting.
Posted on June 11, 2014, in Book Club, Book reviews, Books for the beach, Books I liked so much I bought them after I borrowed them, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Scribner and tagged Axie Muldoon, Kate Manning. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.