This is a tale about characters that led unconventional lives, following their hearts more often than their heads. It is a powerful story about four women who came from completely different backgrounds, backgrounds charged with controversy and conflict. As young women they made drastic decisions that altered their lives completely. Each one lived in Las Vegas, a city they hoped would allow them to realize their dreams and forgive their own sins.
I recommend that the book be read as if it was four separate novellas. It covers many decades. Each story can really stand on its own; each one is riveting, except perhaps for Engracia’s, the final character introduced, because she is not as fully developed, but she is very important since she is the catalyst that unites them all, in the end. I found that treating each character as separate and apart from the other, it was easier to keep track of who they were and easier to follow the thread of their lives that eventually knitted them all together.
June Stein was a young Jewish girl who was both non-traditional and non-conventional. When she was 19 she entered into an unsuccessful marriage. After a year, she left him. At 21, she ran to Las Vegas to seek a new life. She liked excitement. When she met Odell Dibb, her life took a turn in a different direction. They married and ran his casino, the El Capitan, together. When Del hired Eddie Knox to sing in his casino, her life turned full circle, sucking her into a scandal Del hoped to squelch before it got out. Del and June both loved each other and both accepted each other’s idiosyncratic ways. Both loved Eddie Knox. In the 1940’s, a relationship between a white woman and black man was illegal in Las Vegas.
Coral was an illegitimate child. She was brought up in Las Vegas by Augusta. She wanted to know her true parentage but could not discover anything. She made all sorts of assumptions about her mother and father, but none were realized. Her non-biological family was loving and so she survived the confusion and the “not knowing”. She was of mixed heritage in a time when black/white relationships were forbidden. The woman who raised her, and became her one true mother, was strong and defied the stares of others as she pretended that Coral was her own dear child. Her siblings accepted her and loved her unconditionally. Eventually, Coral fell in love with Koji, a man who was Japanese. Their relationship eventually flourished producing children of mixed race, but the times had changed, and in some places, society accepted their marriage and their offspring.
Honorata was from the Philippines. As a teenager, she fell in love with Kidlat. She ran off with him. He betrayed her, refusing to marry her, and further, he influenced her to make a porn film that brought shame to her and her family. Because of the humiliation, she was forced to leave her home. Her uncle betrayed her. He basically sold her to a man in America named Jimbo. He made Jimbo believe that “Rita” wanted to come to him, that she had been the one corresponding with him, instead of the uncle who was pretending to be her. Jimbo believed that she had been complicit, although she had known nothing of her uncle’s schemes. At first, he had been kind to her and intended to marry her, but when he found out about her past he felt betrayed; he became cruel and would no longer honor his pledge. One day, he decided to take her with him on a visit to Las Vegas. While there, lady luck smiled upon Honorata and she won a major jackpot at the El Capitan. Now Jimbo wanted to marry her, but June explained her rights to her. If they were not married, the money was hers alone. She escaped from Jimbo’s control to begin a new life. When she discovered she was pregnant with his child, she kept it a secret. She believed that he was evil. She did not love him. She wanted to begin again.
Engracia Montoya loved Juan. He loved her, as well. They entered America illegally. They moved to Las Vegas. He was arrested and served time in prison. They had a child, Diego. Juan felt unsafe in America and returned to Mexico, but Engracia wanted a better life for her son and remained in Las Vegas where tragedy struck their lives.
There are several common themes expressed in the narrative. Women’s rights, civil rights, family, infidelity, illegitimate children, civil disobedience, immigration issues, affairs of the heart, secrets and betrayals appear throughout. No life was perfect, but each developed with its own purpose and character. All four women were brave, in their own way. They had dreams and forged their futures independently.
Although the reviews seem to emphasize the importance of the Midnight Room at the club, I thought the women’s backgrounds, choices, decisions and lifestyles spoke far more to me. I have both an ARC and digital version of the book.