FALLEN BEAUTY by Erika Robuck (NAL Trade Paperback; 978-0-451-41890-6; March 4, 2014; $16)
In 1928 upstate New York, unwed mother Laura Kelley struggles to support her daughter at her failing dress shop, just steps away from the girl’s father, the man Laura loves but can never have. Responsible for her family, she has put her dreams of going to New York City to become a costume designer on indefinite hold. When Laura’s brother-in-law breaks his marriage vows by having a brief affair with famous local, married poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, anger spurs her to approach Millay in her nearby Berkshire estate, Steepletop. Laura finds herself accepting a job to sew costumes for Millay’s tour of enormously popular poetry readings. As Laura is increasingly drawn into Millay’s no-holds-barred world of free love and uninhibited artistic expression, she becomes privy to shocking secrets and cruel betrayals. And when Millay’s private torments reach a crisis point, Laura must choose between her loyalty to her family and the impulse to pursue her own artistic dreams.
Erika Robuck’s best novel yet. It’s a tough one to put down. Loved the characters, the descriptiveness. The story’s mainly Laura’s yet told through both Laura’s and Millay’s perspectives. It’s an old story told often about a small-town woman stuck in a bad position with ties to this little town and its judgmental ways. She’s an outcast. Then she strikes a wealthy, famous poet’s fancy. Laura’s looks, personality and talent draw Millay to her. But it’s not simple because Laura believes she’s not like her neighbors yet proves to be exactly like them at first toward Millay. She’s completely critical and apprehensive. Robuck over-uses the term witch in reference to Millay and other townspeople who are different. Laura also acts so typically for a single, unmarried woman, shamed and all. So at times the novel grinds to cliched, predictable moments. The mysterious, handsome sculptor who shows up in town one day to create the virgin statue? Any astute reader knows he’ll end up with Laura from moment one. Scarlet-lettered woman. Brooding stranger. Check and check. Too transparent for me.
“I thought of Millay with a growing awe, and some jealousy. Whether she was a witch or not, her words meant a lot to many people, including me. I felt pride at the thought of creating for this woman child. A woman who needed a well of experience from which to draw her words.”
I didn’t know much about Millay beyond her poetry, and I’m sadly limited on my knowledge of that, and by the last page I loved her bohemian spirit so much that I plan to go out and buy one of her poetry collections this week. Robuck conducted impeccable research and manages to truly allow Millay’s vibrant spirit, sensuality and creative force to come forth on the page. In the beginning Laura feels threatened by the beguiling poet who lives such an open lifestyle in her castle on the hill. Millay throws parties and takes lovers as does her husband. It feeds her creativity and artistic expression. It’s their lifestyle. Laura’s closed off because she’s ostracized by a town that judges her and her decision to raise a daughter on her own after her affair ending badly. Would have liked more Edna St. Vincent Millay and less Laura Kelley but truly appreciated the manner in which Robuck twisted together these women’s stories. It worked. They meshed beautifully. Loved any creative moments–about Laura designing costumes and gowns for Millay and all parts about Millay’s poetry. How wonderful to read about two creative women who share similar experiences and forge a friendship while overcoming challenges and embracing their commonalities and strengths rather than being forced apart by small-town prejudices.
About the Author:
Erika Robuck has appeared on the Southern Independent Bestseller List for Call Me Zelda and is the critically acclaimed author of Hemingway’s Girl. Born and raised in Annapolis, Maryland, Erika was inspired by the cobblestones and old churches. She is a contributor to the popular fiction blog, Writer Unboxed, and maintains her own historical fiction blog called Muse. For more information please visit www.erikarobuck.com
NAL Trade Paperback has offered to send one of my readers with a valid U.S. Mailing address a copy of Fallen Beauty. To enter, please include your email address in the comment section and I will select one winner on March 15. I’ll email you for your mailing address. The publisher will then mail out a copy of the novel to you.