We are proud to announce that BookBrowse has won Platinum in the 2024 Modern Library Awards.

Excerpt from Charity Girl by Michael Lowenthal, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Charity Girl

by Michael Lowenthal

Charity Girl by Michael Lowenthal X
Charity Girl by Michael Lowenthal
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2007, 336 pages

    Paperback:
    Jan 2008, 336 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Excerpt
Charity Girl

Someone has come for her — someone is here! — and gossip speeds so readily through Ladies’ Undergarments that Frieda, in a twinkling, is forewarned. (The elevator boy tells the stock girl, who tells her.) She grins, but as the newest- hired wrapper at Jordan Marsh she’s still minded awfully closely by Mr. Crowley, so she struggles against the glee and keeps to work. She snaps a box open and handily tucks its ends, crimps tissue around the latest stranger’s buys: a nainsook chemise, a crêpe de Chine camisole. But her fingers, as she’s knotting up the package, snarl the string.

She’s been waiting for him to come again, conjuring. Every day this week, she’s woken half an hour early to wash her hair and put herself together. On the modest black shirtwaist required by Jordan’s dress code gleams her only brooch: Papa’s gold seashell. She’s nibbled at tablets of arsenic to pale her face, rubbed lemon zest on her wrists and her throat: the pinpoints where her flurried pulse beats. A girl who can’t afford to buy perfume finds other lures.

Now, at last, Felix has come, as he promised. She fills her mouth with the hum of his name: Feel-ix. The feel of his thumbs on her hipbones, hooked hard. The taste of his taut, brazen lips.

He’s come for her at work again, for where else could he search? Their first — their only — time, they didn’t use her room (the landlady would have kicked her out, and quick). Instead they went where he wanted, and afterward, in her fluster (her brain swirly with passion, with a fib she’d caught him telling), she neglected to give him her address. Her rooming house has no telephone.

Lou, who was with Frieda when Felix swept her off, predicted he would soon enough be back. Lou didn’t speak to him but says she didn’t have to; she knows from boys, knows all she needs. Frieda scans the department for her surefire companion, hoping to score a last bit of advice. But Lou is nowhere to be seen. She must be in the fitting room with a customer.

It hits Frieda that Minnie, the stock girl, said someone. Why not say a man? Or speak in code? The shopgirls have their secret tricks of talk. “Oh, Henrietta!” one will call, although no clerk goes by that name, meaning: That customer’s a hen, not worth the bother. And if a cash girl whispers, “Could you hand me some of that?” she means, Don’t look yet, but is he handsome!

Minnie didn’t ask to be handed anything; all she said was “Someone’s here for you.” For an instant Frieda fears that the visitor is Mama; Mama’s tracked her down and come to fume. Frieda is still six months shy of eighteen, so Mama retains parental rights. She could have Frieda booked on a charge of stubbornness. She could force her to go live with awful Hirsch.

Silly, no, the explanation’s simpler: Minnie’s just too new to know the code. She’s worked at Jordan’s less than two full weeks.

Frieda had her own missed-signal mishap, her very first Friday at the store. She was struggling after lunch to keep pace at the wrapping counter when Lou, her new pal, hastened by, tapping her wrist twice for the time. Strange — that very wrist was adorned with an Elgin watch — but Frieda’s mind was cottony with fatigue; she said, “Ten past two,” and went back to her bundles.

Seconds later, she heard, “Excuse me,” and looked up. The man was gray-templed, enticingly tall, a crisp-rimmed homburg in his hands.

“Yes,” he said. “Hello. What I need are undergarments. Corsets, brassieres, camisoles.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” said Frieda. “I’m just a bundle wrapper. You’d have to find a salesclerk for that. Try Miss Garneau” — that was Lou — “or Miss Fitzroy.”

Copyright © 2007 by Michael Lowenthal. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Join our inner reading circle, go ad-free and get way more!

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Wild and Distant Seas
    Wild and Distant Seas
    by Tara Karr Roberts
    Tara Karr Roberts is a newspaper columnist who also teaches English and journalism. Wild and Distant...
  • Book Jacket: The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years
    The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years
    by Shubnum Khan
    Shubnum Khan's eloquent and moving debut novel opens in 1932, when a djinn that haunts a house by ...
  • Book Jacket: Transient and Strange
    Transient and Strange
    by Nell Greenfieldboyce
    Throughout her powerful essay collection, Transient and Strange, science reporter Nell ...
  • Book Jacket: Prophet Song
    Prophet Song
    by Paul Lynch
    Paul Lynch's 2023 Booker Prize–winning Prophet Song is a speedboat of a novel that hurtles...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
Mockingbird Summer
by Lynda Rutledge
A powerful and emotional coming-of-age novel set in the 1960s by the bestselling author of West with Giraffes.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Leaving
    by Roxana Robinson

    An engrossing exploration of the vows we make to one another and what we owe to others and ourselves.

  • Book Jacket

    The Adversary
    by Michael Crummey

    An enthralling novel about a small town struggling to survive, and a bitter vendetta between two rivals.

Win This Book
Win The Cleaner

The Cleaner
by Brandi Wells

Rarely has cubicle culture been depicted in such griminess or with such glee."
PW (starred review)

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

I Wouldn't T H W A T-F P

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.