Monday, September 8, 2014

Straight Browsing from the Library: The Beautiful American by Jeanne Mackin

Browse through THE BEAUTIFUL AMERICAN by Jeanne Mackin at The Library as part of her virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Jeanne will be awarding a photo/postcard collection from the 1920s (US/Canada only) to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the rest of the stops.


As recovery from World War II begins, expat American Nora Tours travels from her home in southern France to London in search of her missing sixteen-year-old daughter. There, she unexpectedly meets up with an old acquaintance, famous model-turned-photographer Lee Miller. Neither has emerged from the war unscathed.

Nora and Lee knew each other in the heady days of late 1920's Paris, when Nora was giddy with love for her childhood sweetheart, Lee became the celebrated mistress of the artist Man Ray, and Lee's magnetic beauty drew them all into the glamorous lives of famous artists and their wealthy patrons. But Lee fails to realize that her friendship with Nora is even older, that it goes back to their days as children in Poughkeepsie, New York, when a devastating trauma marked Lee forever. Will their reunion give them a chance to forgive past betrayals...and break years of silence to forge a meaningful connection as women who have shared the best and the worst that life can offer?


Lee ordered tea and a large pot soon arrived, and a plate of pastries. We sat at our lace-covered table and poured Earl Grey into china teacups. Lee took a silver flask from her purse and poured a healthy shot into her tea. I thought somehow it was all a mad dream, it couldn't be real; Man Ray would walk in at any moment, demanding attention, asking Lee where she'd been, and Jamie would be just behind Man, looking anxious. No, that was years ago. The world now, after the destruction, was made of hot water flavored with burned grain fake-coffee, and all the teacups had been broken.

Lee bit into an eclair and the cream oozed out, smearing her crimson mouth. She laughed and flicked her tongue out to the corners. "Real cream," she said with delight. "I shouldn't be eating this. Impossible to lose weight these days. Didn't I hear you were in France during the war?"

"I heard you were all over Europe, often in two or three places at the same time," I said, avoiding her question. "I saw some of your photos." An edition of British Vogue had made its way to the zinc counter of Omar's café, there in my little village in the hills of southern France. The war photos had been almost surreal in their horror. I had thought at the time, leafing through that dog-eared magazine, that our years in Paris, the experiments in surrealism, had somehow been a training ground for what was to come: the violence, the disconnection.

Man Ray, her lover, protector and promoter during those pre-war Paris years, had once made a sculpture of Lee with a single eye representing the entire body of the woman he adored. He had constructed another image in which he had slit her neck, making a crimson gash like an extra mouth. The body had been reduced to separate parts. We were none of us whole. Maybe that was how we had survived, in parts, like pages torn out of a book so that the story could not be read but only guessed at.


Jeanne Mackin is the author of several novels: The Sweet By and By (St. Martin’s Press), Dreams of Empire (Kensington Books), The Queen’s War (St. Martin’s Press), and The Frenchwoman (St. Martin’s Press). She has published short fiction and creative nonfiction in several journals and periodicals including American Letters and Commentary and SNReview. She is also the author of the Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers (Cornell University publications) and co-editor of The Norton Book of Love (W.W. Norton), and wrote art columns for newspapers as well as feature articles for several arts magazines. She was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society and her journalism has won awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, in Washington, D.C. She teaches creative writing at Goddard College in Vermont, has taught or conducted workshops in Pennsylvania, Hawaii and New York and has traveled extensively in Europe. She lives with her husband, Steve Poleskie, in upstate New York.


Buy the book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Penguin.


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  1. thanks from the author for letting me visit. Hope you are all having a great day. My question: what is your favorite perfume? (Nora, the books narrator, becomes a 'nose' in the industry.) When did you start wearing it?
    - Jeanne Mackin, author of The Beautiful American