It's back to the 1920s in "The Bohemians," a moody new novel by Seattle author Laurie Blauner.
Similar to our day, the Jazz Age was a period of fast-moving transition, when the growing pains of a metamorphosing society seemed to trigger the simultaneous but opposing responses of puissance and ennui.
Blauner explores this juxtaposition via a love triangle that coalesces around the art scene in New York City.
Lil Moore is a brilliant young painter with a troubled past. Accountant Leon Shaffer is Lil's current swain, although given her temperament he is probably too stolid to retain her interest for long. Gallery owner and inveterate lady's man George Holman represents Lil's work, and at one time prevailed in her bed.
A middle-aged man, George nonetheless has successfully tapped into the young and cutting-edge art world. He mingles easily with the Bohemian crowd, but plays with fire as he juggles work with his predilections for booze, women, and gambling.
Eventually he marries Alice, an up-and-coming young artist, and they move to a houseboat to reign in costs. But George's reckless past is catching up with him.
At the same time that his financial bubble is beginning to disintegrate, Lil's emotional health spirals into decline when she realizes that George is no longer sexually or romantically available to her.
Leon, inclined by his very nature to step in and help, can only do so much for these two foundering souls.
A host of other characters roam through this book - a Freudian psychiatrist, a mixed-race singer, a Latin piano player, a pair of alcohol-soused art patrons, and a flame-haired undercover spy - all trying to figure out the future and their place in it and are desperate not to become boring cogs in the wheel.
But as a rejoinder to "the cat's meow" lingo that titters from the lips of these nervous free spirits, a tattered old pet lion pads through the story projecting resignation.
Blauner invests this story with rich imagery and metaphor, and further augments her tale with the jetsam of the times. The Leopold and Loeb case (just the first of many "Trial(s) of the Century") grabs everyone's attention with the defendants' admission that they killed for the thrill of it. Talent scouts for the moving picture industry hold beauty pageants seeking young women with "sex appeal." The King Tut exhibit in New York causes a sensation with rumors of the curse of the tomb. And Peppy Cigarettes advertise that their "aristocratic flavor" will not only help people eat fewer sweets but also "keep in good shape and always feel lively."
Swathed in smoke and awash in bootleg liquor, "The Bohemians" etches out a time that was both decadent and naïve, yet seems quaint now.
Does it provide context and philosophical grist for our own marijuana-perfumed era? Perhaps.
It also gives serious consideration to art and its execution, brushstroke by brushstroke. Illusion - and disillusionment - get careful consideration in this probing book.
"The Bohemians" was published by Black Heron Press of Mill Creek.
Barbara Lloyd McMichael writes a weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at email@example.com