Fallen Beauty. Erika Robuck. NAL Trade Paperback. March 2014. 384 pp. ISBN#: 978045141890.
A seductive, jaded poet presents as a liberal woman in 1928 upstate New York. Anyone who knows her wants to drink, eat, and embrace free love with her, with no reservations on a daily basis. The same group from town, who are riddled with jealousy but who secretly join her bacchanalian parties, condemn her as an immoral witch. The last group is emotionally shattered by this free love style which has sucked up spouses in a parasitic, hallucinatory embrace, the ultimate betrayal for committed couples.
Yes, this is the poet, Edna Vincent Millay, known as “Vince” or “Vincie” to those who have entered her embrace, the woman who leaves behind tormented bodies and shattered souls, the woman who needs these lovers and worshipers to inspire her creations of amazingly sensitive and famous poetry. One might call her bohemian or a torturer, but while reading this novel the reader is enchanted by her poetic, truthful comments or conversations. The reader is thus as easily seduced by this poet who seems to exude the truth of beauty and the beauty of truth, principles which one may come to understand but which yield to daunting costs and shattering revelations.
While Millay forges ahead in her campaign of ravishment, a young woman living in the town next to the countryside where Millay resides is suffering her own betrayal and shame. Remember, this is 1928 and to fall in love and bear a child out of that love but outside of marriage is anathema to any law-abiding middle class resident. Christianity is used more as a tool of condemnation against Laura Kelley, who attempts to ignore the critics but whose shame for being an unwed mother of a beautiful child never leaves. She is also a talented seamstress, whose business declines after she gives birth to a witty, fearless little girl and is abandoned by a former lover who remains unnamed for a very long time.
Complications follow involving Laura’s sister, a revered female leader in the town, a group of Gypsies, and a sculptor. Secrets are revealed as the relationships of all begin to fragment. The beauty in this novel, however, has to do with Laura’s significant skill in creating beautiful dresses and gowns reflective of the Jazz Age, the time in which men and women yearned to be rid of all rules, laws and boundaries.
Poetry is an accepted art but at the time the creators of beautiful, liberating clothing was admired by many but worn by only those daring enough to “not care” about conventional values. The creation of both gifts is depicted in exquisite details which can be relished by any sensitive reader. Yes, Edna or Vincie, as well as Laura, suffer in order to generate beautiful and liberating art. Many aspects of several mysteries are revealed and both women mature (having nothing and everything to do with art) and both evolve into memorable, dynamic characters. The rest is indescribable but MUST be read and experienced through one’s intellect and soul. Transformation follows for all, including the reader. Delightful historical fiction and highly recommended! You won’t want it to end at all!