The Little Shadows (Marina Endicott)
“‘I want to be honest,’ she said. ‘I don’t much care about honour’” (465).
Endicott’s Shadows relates the lives of three sisters—Aurora, Clover, and Bella—and their mother, as the three pitch their “sister act” for the early 20th-century vaudeville stage across Canada and the northern United States. While they dream of stardom and earning “a thousand a week,” they are all too aware that they are only a few missteps away from penniless, but both poverty and passion push them onward.
Endicott’s supporting cast, too, is wonderfully developed. “Vaudeville people… [are] used to separation” (453), but they enjoy reunions all the more for it, and acts, performers, and vaudeville families pop up again and again, at different theatres and in new permutations all around the circuit and through the sisters’ lives. Early on, for instance, the girls encounter another sister act, the Simple (later, Saucy) Soubrettes, and while the Soubrettes are the stronger performers at the time, the girls become not enemies, but colleagues and friends. The Soubrettes, too, are the sisters’ first glimpse into the darker side of vaudeville, Mercy, the oldest, having been forced to give the theatre manager a “French job” to ensure their billing. Like anywhere, vaudeville is not always safe for the sisters, but Endicott handles her material—which includes rape, suicide, and war—gently, intelligently, and with great compassion for the injured.
Having recently attended a preview screening of the incredible film, Testament of Youth, I’ve been thinking (once again) about the First World War, and though fiction where Testament is based on Vera Brittain’s memoir, Shadows, too, captures the war’s impact on the lives of women at home (and Canadian women, to boot).
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