In the East Village of a small New England town during the 1890s, Jean Blouin's only teenage aspiration is to become a stonecutter like his father and grandfather before him; Madeline "Maddy" Smith is six years older and an accomplished pianist from a prestigious West Village family who discovers his raw musical and artistic talents. Amid the unprecedented changing times of the era, teacher and student become lovers and find themselves in a forbidden relationship that becomes intertwined with class struggle and turmoil escalating between the two very disparate villages of Masacksic, Massachusetts.
Both of their fathers are widowers, each coping very differently with their circumstances. Lucien Blouin, a French-Canadian immigrant, is supportive and accepting of his five offspring; Harlan Smith is from old New England money - an affluent alcoholic elitist who, though extremely demanding, is a difficult yet complex man with many sides to his obstreperous countenance. Elderly Elisha Blake, a neighbor of the Blouins in the East Village and an old Yankee himself, befriends young Jean and shares not only his horses, but also shocking and prophetic secrets that link the two villages.
Throughout, Jean and his younger sister Marie share a special bond that, ultimately, dramatically influences each of their lives. Pricilla "Prissy" Johnson, the Smith's striking Negro domestic, is the sister that Maddy never had and their closeness transcends any obvious differences, but leads to dangerous conspiracies. Jean and Maddy wade through religious intolerance, women's suffrage, social ostracism and racism that ride the underbelly of the "Gay Nineties" like a remora.
Then, suddenly, their world changes as quickly as the volatility of the times. But how does this bode for the future - and the young lovers? Does the maelstrom that is the 1890s sweep them away or do they ride the crest of the wave to wherever life leads them? Circumstance and opportunity lead to Manhattan, a dynamic world with an insatiable appetite for buildings, and talented people. Several shocking twists of fate await them as the political intrigue, unparalleled technological advances, and the cultural growth heralded by The Gilded Age define their destiny.
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Here's what reviewers are saying:
"The author deftly incorporates late 19th-century personages and events into the plot..." Kirkus Reviews
"A romance with likeable characters and an intriguing setting..." Kirkus Reviews
"You'll be instantly tranported to another place and time, and swept into this beautiful story of a love that transcends class, turmoil, distance and time." The Three Tomatoes
"Brownstone & Ivory is a charming book by Peter Stephen Benton, and tells the story of a New England town's division, both in terms of class distinction and financial viability, the struggle of the laborers in the brownstone quarry that provided the millions of tons of stone for the building of a great city, and the craft men's skill in the precise cutting of the rich material. If you like history and steamy romance, you'll enjoy reading Brownstone & Ivory."
Agata Stanford, author