By dint of birth, Lizzie Hayes is part of San Francisco's social elite. But Lizzie, so seemingly docile, hides within her a rebellious heart. All she needs is the spark that will liberate her from the ruling conventions. And that spark is Mary Ellen Pleasant. With her appearance on Lizzie's doorstep, she brings with her not only mystery and a whiff of disrepute but also the key that will unlock Lizzie's passionate nature. "You can be anything you want," she tells Lizzie. "You don't have to be the same person your whole life."Lizzie Hayes is the perfect foil for Fowler's sly and insidious skewering of social pretensions, her outward placidity concealing a mind quick to note the disingenuousness of the world she observes. It's as if Jane Austen were writing of the follies of our Gilded Age. Not surprising coming from the novelist hailed by The New York Times Book Review for her "willingness to take detours, her unapologetic delight in the odd historical fact, her shadowy humor and the elegant unruliness of her language."