So, where do I begin? Dr. Radway describes the energy of Philadelphia in the early 1870s, the energy of factories surrounding you wherever you are, pouring out its dirt and smoke, spewing its noise, the streets full of stray animals and unsavory people and the language of this book matches this sooty energy (a different feeling than I’m used to from Beth). It is about William and his family, a product of this industrial society, which wears you down and spits you out; where it’s a struggle to make ends meet.
Dangerous Neighbors, on the other hand, has a more refined energy (and language)–that of Philadelphia in the midst of its tumultuous 1876 Centennial which drew millions of visitors, which seemed to take away the dirt and smoke and replace it with music and blue skies and prancing horses and soaring birds, although ever present Shantytown abuts the fairgrounds. The language of Dangerous Neighbors is the more refined, descriptive language that I’m used to in a Beth Kephart book and it totally matches the aura of the book.
The former book describes William’s relationship with his older brother, Francis, who would mysteriously provide for his family (the father being in prison) and then with his mother after Francis’ murder at the hands of the police. How William feels helpless in trying to avenge his brother’s death. It describes William’s mother’s descent into depression at the loss of a favored son and her subsequent ascent when there is someone else to care for.
The latter, describes the relationship between twins Anna (the older) and Katherine (the younger) who, in a seeming reversal of roles, looks after her older, more free spirited sister. It describes Katherine’s helplessness at the loss of her sister and her descent into depression and her subsequent rise. It describes their mother, immersed in her worldly causes, to the neglect of her children.
Dr. Radway contrasts William’s life, scrounging for food, while living in the working class section of Philadelphia with Katherine’s upper class upbringing, having a maid (surrogate mother) in Jennie Bea, going on shopping sprees or to the opera.
What both books do so well is describe one city, Philadelphia of the 1870s, although two different worlds. Both books delve into their main characters, William and Katherine, making them come alive. And both books use language as only Beth Kephart uses language.
It was a luxury reading the books one after the other, because it highlights the contrasts that otherwise would have been hidden. So, Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent and then Dangerous Neighbors. The one-two punch in books.