Having read and reviewed Erika Robuck’s first two works of fiction, Hemingway’s Girl and Call Me Zelda, I looked forward to reading and reviewing her newest novel, to be published in March, Fallen Beauty featuring the American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, her husband Eugen Jan Boissevain, the central character Laura Kelly – a scandalized single parent from the local village near Millay’s upstate New York mountain top home Steepletop, and a cast of small town characters who add depth and dimension to the story.
I was more than pleasantly surprised. I was amazed (and at times, uncertain) at the mercurial narrative from start to finish that had my mind and emotions all over the map from start to finish. In my opinion, Robuck’s narrative style, capturing the edgy and uncertain life of both Kelly and Millay (both of whom fit and illustrate the title Fallen Beauty) is one of the biggest pluses of this book.
Robuck also does an effective job of significantly contrasting the bohemian lifestyle of Millay with the restrained and conservative life of Kelly and the town she lives in. She does so by effectively using the backdrop of the late 1920’s and the entire decade of the 1930’s as well as the background of the two main characters – a well traveled and very open living poet and a small town conservative girl whose passionate night with an unnamed character results in a pregnancy she courageously choose to keep and raise. This is accomplished by alternating chapters between Laura and Millay telling what is going on around them and within them as the story unfolds. The ever growing tension both between them, within themselves, and with the other characters in the book is not fully resolved until late in the book and then in a dramatic way.
There are many themes running through this novel. I will leave other readers to determine the one to two themes which catch their attention. For me, one of the most important themes involves Kelly’s daughter, aptly named… Grace.
In both a physical and a very symbolic way, especially as noted in Grace’s observant thoughts about the developing sculpture of the Virgin Mary, Grace is who brings Millay and Kelly together through her honest and childlike ways, and, I think faith in them and in the larger context of what is often believed about grace. Robuck’s insertion of her at various times into the story often, I think serves as a signal of hope and… well, grace in the midst of aging, financial hardship, loss of innocence, loss of love, shame, guilt, and finding meaning in life.
With good attention to detail of the time period such as in the description of a 1920’s and 30’s small town and the personalities, trends, and styles of that day, Robuck has created another wonderful piece of historical fiction which truly looks into the issues of life and, well… the issues, challenges, and possibilities of faith, hope, and love. I honestly admit that it took me a while to warm up to this story and I had some uncertainty as I read it. But when I finished it, I was glad that I did so. And since I finished it I have continued to ponder it.
I rate this book a “Great’ read!
Note: I received an uncorrected proof of this book from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for a review of it. I was not required to write a positive review.