Rose and Ivy Adams are stunned by the death of their father, but his will astonishes them. He has left the house that Rose loves to a brother the girls did not know existed. He has also left them in heavy debt. His attorney, Mr. Lawrence, explains that if they can’t find their brother Asher to clear up the will and pay off the taxes within three weeks, the bank will repossess their beautiful house in upstate New York. All the sisters have to go on is a postcard from a place called Empire House in New York City.
The two sisters make an uncomfortable team. Rose has always been the caretaker, treated by their father as the plain sister who takes care of the house. Ivy he thought beautiful and talented. Ivy is thrilled to go to New York, envisioning a brilliant future for herself as an actress. Rose, who is a homebody, only goes to save the house. The two are almost always at odds—Rose prim and disapproving, Ivy spoiled and childishly complaining that Rose ruins everything.
The girls go to stay at Empire House, a rooming house in Greenwich Village, hoping to find Asher. No one there admits to knowing him, but the girls think they are all lying.
After some initial coolness, Rose begins to fit into the household. She accepts a job doing housework from Nell, the owner of Empire House, and sews for Cat LeGrand, who owns a dress shop and speakeasy. She also almost immediately falls in love with the Empire House cook, Sonny Santino. Although Ivy at first seems to be in her element of 1920’s gaiety and gets a job as a waitress at Cat’s, she does not adjust as easily.
Written in alternating chapters by each sister, the novel doesn’t really evoke a colorful picture of the 20’s. Only the amount of drinking seems to reflect the time period.
The characters of the two sisters are almost cartoonish at first—they are so polarized. Yet at the same time their voices are indistinct enough that when I was reading a chapter, I would often forget which sister was speaking.
The reasons the inhabitants are lying to the girls and what they are lying about seem contrived. The timeline of the novel is absurdly short and yet the girls only make a few feeble attempts to find Asher. Although Asher’s situation has some secrets, too, the ultimate fate of the sisters is perfectly predictable. I found this novel lightweight and silly.