Old Rosa the bag lady shuffles along the streets of New York, stinking, silent and shunned by man and beast. Time and again her nephew, Michael Marcinkus the grocer, has tried to help - but Rosa remains unknowable, hushed inside her hulk.
On the day of the St Patrick's Day Parade, Rosa is in a terrible accident. While she lies in hospital, Mr Marcinkus visits her squalid apartment and unearths something remarkable from the monstrous piles of junk: two glittering ruby slippers, relics of Hollywood history. How on earth does decrepit old Rosa come to own such treasure? And what is to be done with it now?
Rosa's 'Ruby Millions' soon become an irresistible beacon for the misplaced hopes and darkest desires of an unforgettable cast of characters. But in the hunger to possess the prize, will anyone stop to learn the incredible story of the woman to whom they once belonged?
The Ruby Slippers is a rare and moving fantasia of hidden treasures, forgotten histories, lost connections, and our search for true meaning.
The Ruby Slippers by Keir Alexander is published by Corsair (Constable & Robinson) on 20 March 2014. My thanks to Laura Sherlock who sent my copy on behalf of the publisher.
Rosa and her dog Barrell walk the streets of New York, never stopping to speak to anyone, never acknowledging anyone, but always making an impact. Rosa stinks, her odour offends and horrifies anyone that goes anywhere near her. Only her great-nephew Michael attempts to interact with her. Rosa visits his shop with a hand-written note that tells him what grocery items she wants, he hands them over and always encourages her to take a bath. It is this sense of family loyalty that pricks at Michael when he hears that Rosa has had a terrible accident during the St Patrick's Day Parade. He and his wife decide that they must go to her apartment, to clear out and to help.
Rosa's apartment really comes as no surprise. Years and years of rubbish, everything from decaying food to old underwear - the smell is atrocious. Yet amongst the rubbish and the waste they discover a beautiful pair of ruby slippers - a legacy from the old days of Hollywood, and a mystery. Why does Rosa have these slippers in her apartment?
We are introduced to a cast of characters who seem entirely unconnected, but on further reading we realise that it is the ruby slippers and their worth that bring this unlikely collection of people together. Their secrets, their hopes, their desires and their histories are played out from New York and Hollywood and across Europe.
One fabulous, iconic item is the link that binds together a story that is terribly clever, a little whimsical, but utterly human at its centre. At times very funny, and sometimes very very sad, Keir Alexander is a gifted author who has created a story full of characters who are realistic in their faults and a plot that is ambitious yet very well woven together.
Keir Alexander was once an actor and stage manager before working in film as a writer and director. He is now an English teacher living in Sussex where he plays cricket as often as he can.