Although set in the nineteen twenties with smatterings of The Great Gatsy, Beatriz Williams’ A Certain Age reminded me more of an Oliver Goldsmith comedy of manners (She Stoops to Conquer) or an Oscar Wilde farce.
Married to a wealthy philandering husband, middle-aged socialite Theresa Marshall has her own love interest – a handsome young aviator, Captain Octavian Rofrano. All is well until she sends her Rofrano, as her brother’s emissary – his “cavalier” (think Miles Standish) to propose to young Sophie Fortescue on her brother Ox’s behalf. Rofrano promptly falls in love with Sophie.
The story follows the plot of Richard Strauss’s comic opera Der Rosenkavalier, using the love triangle with the same character names, and capitalizing on the frivolous diversions of the rich. Williams uses New York City after World War I as her setting and substitutes a murder mystery for the scheming servants in Strauss’s plot to sustain the action.
Although the action begins slowly, the plot thickens with clever insertions from the New York Times Herald gossip columnist, Patty Cake, who neatly summarizes in two or three pages what has taken chapters to reveal. The romantic liaisons are sometimes more humorous than titillating – the lover hiding under the bed – but Williams succeeds in maintaining the sensuous aura of her woman of a certain age, the older Theresa, seducing her much younger lover.
Just as in the opera, all ends happily – well, in this case except for a few dead bodies.