I usually don’t like historical fiction, so when I cam across Life Before, I was hesitant to read it. Looking over the synopsis, I decided to go against my doubt. The genre may not be my first pick, but K.L. Romo’s unique interlacing of history, reincarnation, and prostitution is well done. I feel this has opened my mind up to a new genre—in books and life.
With her youngest child off to college, Elaine Dearborn has time to start the writing career she’s always wanted. But, once at her desk, the impossible happens. Visions of her life as Eliza Darling, a former prostitute in 1907 Dallas, fill her mind. Eliza will stop at nothing to shut down the sex trade that has taken advantage of many young women. In 2011, Elaine’s life in the present intertwines with Eliza’s as she searches for the reason behind her episodes. Elaine keeps her ventures to the past a secret, terrified she is crazy. That is, until she makes a connection that can affect her future.
Romo’s tells of these women, their friends, and their experiences, keeping you engaged from start to finish. I had some issues, but the story of Elaine and Eliza, the same soul at different points of time, had me in awe with their similarities and differences. What I enjoyed most is how subtle their differences are. Having been a prostitute makes Eliza outgoing in her decisions and actions—a surprise, seeing as she’s a woman in the early 1900s. Elaine is, in her way, softer and more cautious. They are like sugar and spice, but their desire to be writers and to better the world sings the same.
Uncovering the events of Elaine’s past life as Eliza is extraordinary and the experiences of the people around her pulled me deeper than any novel I’ve read before. The monstrosities happening to the girls and young women, forced to work or not, keeps you rooting for Eliza on her campaign to end sex slavery and abuse of these women during the 1900s. Interestingly, though the characters and events are fictional, the Virginia K. Johnson Home & Training Center for Women was a real institution in Dallas, devoted to giving young prostitutes a way out. Not only did Romo do her research on the topic, but she connected it to reality and the truth of the story. All the characters, from Elaine and Eliza to John Funk and Mart, play in an important role in the story—no matter the size of their presence. The same is applicable to everyday people and real life, as well.
The novel revolves around the abuse that comes with prostitution and, with almost all the women being sex workers, sexual content is inevitable. These scenes range from consensual to non-consensual and how graphic they are varies, too. While I’m not uncomfortable with it, the next reader may not take it so well.
As I said, Romo’s story-telling pulls you in and leaves you wondering what will happen each of the characters. The issue I had is how the narration changes from Elaine or Eliza to other people of the past. It raises the question of how it’s possible for Elaine to know what is going on for these other individuals when she “travels” back to see her time as Eliza.
There’s also the occasional misuse of the words “That” and “Than” being in place of other. It isn’t a big occurrence, but it does disrupt the flow. I liked the way Romo uses Elaine’s trinkets to connect her to Eliza and allow her travel to the past. It’s clever and took me a moment to realize what was making her to do so. You know, aside from possible schizophrenia.
The jumping around of narration may have made me scratch my head a bit, but I don’t deny I thoroughly enjoyed reading K.L. Romo’s Life Before. It does a phenomenal job to open the reader’s eyes to a past of events that still affects us to this day, while showing we are capable of making a change. Though I do warn off sexual violence, I give this a rating 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. Its topics piqued many of my interests—historical, moral, and spiritual.