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Book Review: "Fallen Beauty" by Erika Robuck

"Fallen Beauty" by Erika Robuck

Sometimes the lives of two seemingly different people have their lives intersect and they find out how much alike they really are. It's hard to imagine that a seductive and wild poet and a heartbroken and lonely seamstress could find a common bond, but sometimes life's experiences brings the most unlikely of people together. In "Fallen Beauty" by Erika Robuck, the Bohemian poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and Laura Kelley, an unwed mother, and seamstress find that common bond.

"Fallen Beauty" explores the very different lives of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Laura Kelly in the late 1920's. The point of view changes from chapter to chapter so each woman gets to tell their full story and perspective. Laura lives in a small town in upstate New York. It is a close knit town, but one that ends up being full of judgment and secrets. When Laura finds herself pregnant due to a secret relationship with a married lover, her world changes forever. The town shuns her and Laura struggles to protect her young daughter, her seamstress business, and put food on the table. Meanwhile, up on the mountain overlooking the town in an estate called Steepletop, the famed and seductive poet Edna St. Vincent Millay is dealing with her own struggles and personal demons. Living a seemingly carefree life of an open, but loving marriage,numerous male and female lovers, tons of alcohol, and success makes Edna's life seem glamorous, but she battles her own personal longings and struggles for someone she truly wants, but can't fully have. A scandalous and heartbreaking encounter between Edna and Laura's sister introduces Laura to Edna. Edna is captivated by Laura and longs to have her as a lover, but she's also captivated by Laura's seamstress skills. Edna begs Laura to create costumes for Edna's next book tour. At first, Laura resists, but eventually begins to work for Edna and an unlikely and strange friendship and most importantly, bond forms between the two of them. While Edna battles her own feelings and struggles, Laura battles a town's judgment of mistakes from her past. This is a story of two different women with different lives that end up forming a bond and understanding that helps them through their darkest times.

Robuck excels in writing about great writers from the past, particularly female ones. She also has a talent in creating a fictional character to parallel the great writer. Both Edna and Laura have their own voice, their own circumstances, and most importantly, their own story, but yet they also compare well with one another. You can see how their roles in society of being an over-the-top scandalous poet or unwed mother have caused them to become "fallen women". Robuck put so much thought and detail into the stories of these two women.

Another thing Robuck excels at is creating a setting. You will feel as if you are apart of this judgmental town that Laura lives in or that you are at a wild party at Edna's mountain estate. Robuck's special attention to detail and research about the time period, the locations, the dress, and the historical context is top notch.

Most importantly, Robuck has paved a new sub-genre in historical fiction. Once it was all about kings, queens, mistresses, but Robuck's writing about famed literary characters has given new life to the historical fiction genre. It is a breath of fresh air to read about these talented writers and the lives they led.

"Fallen Beauty" is a powerful, moving, and unique novel. It's one of those novels that will stick with you and keep you thinking about the characters, real and fictional, long after you have finished the book.

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