Renee Rosen's Dollface captures Prohibition-era Chicago in all of its flappery, gangstery glory

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Vera Abramowitz had this thought when she was a teenager: "I was sick of being too afraid to live. That’s when I got busy, making up for lost time. There was newfound freedom in acting daring and bold, taking risks and seeing how much I could get away with."

In Dollface (New American Library), set in 1920s Chicago, writer Renee Rosen cuts right to the chase in the first pages. Vera, the titular Dollface, is at a Prohibition-era speakeasy, acting bold, taking risks, and seeing how much she can get away with. She’s there with her childhood friend and roommate, out for fun and adventure. Vera's tiny, but she’s a looker who can hold her liquor. She attracts the attention of men. The club is suddenly raided, and in the ensuing commotion one of these men leads her to safety through a secret passage. He disappears. But not for long. Just as she'd dreamed, Vera’s life is about to get very interesting.

Vera had left the Brighton Park home where she grew up and taken a job as a typist in a Chicago insurance office. Her mom ran a slaughterhouse in the meatpacking district. Not Vera's style. She’s more into perfume and jewelry than blood and guts. But little does she know . . .

Vera soon finds herself dating rival gangsters: Tony Liolli on the south side (associated with Al Capone) and Shep Green on the north side (associated with Dion O’Banion). It’s not giving too much away to note that there’s blood and guts involved in their lines of work too. Vera ends up marrying Shep and living in high style (partying with Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin, for instance) but she continues to see Tony, and as tensions—and murders— between the gangs escalate, Dollface is caught in the middle in more ways than one. (“I got glitz and glamour, all right, but I also got gore and carnage.")

She also ends up doing a little bootlegging of her own.

Rosen, who's based in Chicago, has peppered her engaging story with lots of local color and historical references (Vera spots Al Capone in the Green Mill at his favorite booth). Along with lots of drinking, smoking, sex, intrigue, danger, and murder.

Renee Rosen
  • Charles Osgood
  • Renee Rosen

Dollface: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties was released on November 5. Rosen had her launch party that day at Women & Children First, but you can catch her at the upcoming readings: Wed 11/6, 7 PM, Anderson’s Bookshop, 5112 Main, Downers Grove; Thu 11/7, 7 PM, Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln; Fri 11/8, 7 PM, Lake Forest Book Store, 680 N. Western, Lake Forest; Mon 11/11, 7 PM, Palatine Public Library, 700 N. North Court, Palatine; Wed 11/13, 7 PM, Book Stall at Chestnut Court, 811 Elm, Winnetka; Fri 11/22, 7 PM, Barnes & Noble, 297 Oakbrook Center, Oak Brook; Wed 12/4, 6:30 PM. Rosen also takes part in "The Last Speakeasy" Wed 12/4 at the Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark, $45, 21+.

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