Author: Erika RobuckSummary: “Without sin, can we know beauty? Can we fully appreciate the summer without the winter? No, I am glad to suffer so I can feel the fullness of our time in the light.” Upstate New York, 1928. Laura Kelley and the man she loves sneak away from their judgmental town to attend a performance of the scandalous Ziegfeld Follies. But the dark consequences of their night of daring and delight reach far into the future. That same evening, Bohemian poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and her indulgent husband hold a wild party in their remote mountain estate, hoping to inspire her muse. Millay declares her wish for a new lover who will take her to unparalleled heights of passion and poetry, but for the first time, the man who responds will not bend completely to her will. Two years later, Laura, an unwed seamstress struggling to support her daughter, and Millay, a woman fighting the passage of time, work together secretly to create costumes for Millay’s next grand tour. As their complex, often uneasy friendship develops amid growing local condemnation, each woman is forced to confront what it means to be a fallen woman…and to decide for herself what price she is willing to pay to live a full life. ~amazon.com
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Publisher: New American Library
Genre: historical fiction
Bottom Line: Fascinating telling of a period of time in the life of a renowned female poet.
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Review: Erika Robuck has quickly become one of my go-to authors. It is her ability to fictionalize literary persons that compels me pick up her books quickly. I will say that Edna St. Vincent Millay is a literary person that I knew very little about. Well, now I know a lot more about her, at least one period in her life. Ms. Millay wasn't, shall we say, the most stable of individuals. She was certainly way ahead of her time sexually but she used those experiences to write her poetry. Her husband, Eugen, is the true hero of this novel. He had the patience of Job and must have really, truly loved her to put up with her antics. Although, let's be honest it gave him some freedoms as well.
Fallen Beauty isn't all about Millay but it is about her influence on the people of the town in which she lives. It is about her all encompassing personality and her pull on those who enter her web, even briefly. Once family caught in her web is that of Laura and Marie Kelley. Laura is a single mother living with her scandal in the town she grew up in. She is shunned and quickly builds up walls to protect herself and her young daughter, Grace. Marie is engaged and quickly married to an up and coming politician. It is when Marie and Everette attend a party given by Millay that their fates start to be entwined. Millay begins to have a unhealthy obsession with Laura and tries to do everything in her power to get Laura to be in the same space as her. It isn't until Laura starts to read Millay's poetry that she realizes that they might have something in common after all.
Ms. Robuck does an excellent job of showcasing Millay's instability and Laura's hardened heart. She makes us understand that part of Millay's brilliance is her instability. It is her experiences that fuel her creativity. Her obsessions, and there are many, are what makes her unique. Millay is extremely generous with those that she loves/cares about.
Laura's story isn't that uncommon, even for the 1930s. What was uncommon was that she chose to face the adversity and stick to her beliefs and not let cruelness push her out of her home. It is through Millay's poetry and her friendship with her that Laura's hardened heart begins to thaw and perhaps open up to new love. Laura also helps Millay realize that not every relationship is meant to be sexual and perhaps there are other connections than just that one.
I also love how Ms. Robuck mentions her other literary subjects in the course of her new book. It is a reminder that artist get jealous of other's success. If historical fiction is a genre that interest you and ones that center around a literary figure peak your interest, than you won't want to miss Fallen Beauty.