Rare is the romance that speaks to the journey of two lovers as they grow fully into themselves just as they merge into one another; yet, that is precisely what Diane Marina offers within Imperial Hotel, a novelette that takes the reader on the most intimate of journeys, lingering in eternal moments of innocence and passion as well as empowerment and transcendence.
Introduced by their mothers over tea and finger sandwiches at the Imperial Hotel on an unseasonably brisk autumn morning in 1948, Joan Blackstone is instantly drawn to Lily Dandridge, the stunning young socialite who is to assist her in the quest for a proper husband; and, although Lily initially purses her lips and averts her eyes in disinterest, the moment her gaze falls upon Joan, the sense of intrigue grows mutual. As Joan explains, “The expression on her face changed from diffidence to curiosity as she studied my eyes, then the rest of me, before landing back on my eyes, which had never left her face.” As the four share polite conversation and Mrs. Blackstone inquires into Lily’s recent engagement, Joan finds herself inexplicably troubled at the thought of her new friend marrying Andrew, who Lily enthusiastically references as “the most marvelous man who ever walked God’s green earth.”
As their friendship blossoms over cafe lunches, shopping and strolls through Central Park, Joan and Lily become inseparable; and, as a first kiss confirms a love beyond friendship, visits to the Imperial Hotel take on new meaning as the two young ladies enjoy many a discreet intimate encounter within its rooms.
In spite of the genuine love they share, so tender and raw in its innocence and intensity, their relationship is not without its perils. Not only is Lily to be married, but she is also bound by convention in a way that Joan refuses to be. For Lily, not only are there the expectations of family to consider but also appearances and the consequences of two women in love attempting to live openly in New York City’s high-society of the 1940’s. Given the chasm between Lily’s sense of propriety and Joan’s principles, resolution can only be found within the deep recesses of the heart and a commitment to living with authenticity.
The intricacy with which Marina pens the evolution of Joan and Lily’s love affair is most profoundly witnessed as Joan processes each glance, word and caress exchanged between them, encountering a plethora of feelings she knows not how to name. I couldn’t help but to vicariously experience the breathlessness of their first kiss or the all-consuming mingling of fear and desire which accompanied their first intimate encounter; and, as the story continued to unfold, I found myself increasingly invested, for just when I settled into an idea of what was to come, I found myself swept into another unforeseen and unforgettable moment in time.
The plot itself drives an understanding of Lily’s plight; yet, it is Joan who shows herself as the true heroine of this tale, for her honesty and courage prove beyond what one would expect from a young woman who finds herself utterly smitten, navigating the most tender emotions in a world that has yet to recognize the travesty of societal pressure to live one’s life contrary to one’s truth.
Although the story of Joan and Lily’s exquisite connection could easily fill the pages of a full-length novel, there is something so very perfect in the telling just as it is. After all, at its core, it’s the precious history shared across an ornately decorated table within the Imperial Hotel that underscores the most profound moments of these two women’s lives.