“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.
“Lovers of the Jazz Age, literary enthusiasts, and general historic fiction readers will find much to love about Call Me Zelda. Highly recommended.” –Historical Novel Society, Editors’ ChoicePaperback, 384 pages
Laura quietly creeps out the door. In her bag is a magnificent golden dress with a matching feathered headband. Tonight, she is sneaking out with her lover to attend a magical show. It is a night of wonder and magic and Laura doesn't want it to end. Instead of going home, she insists on hiking around the waterfalls. There she and her forbidden lover have one wonderful night of passion. Everything comes crashing down after that night, and Laura soon finds herself ostracized and alone as a single mother. Meanwhile up on the hill outside of town, a very different woman resides. The poet Edna St. Vincent Millay spends her days scribbling poems while engaging in a hedonistic lifestyle. Millay knows no boundaries as she parties, drinks and indulges herself with endless lovers. Very soon these two women's paths will collide. Will they learn to be friends?
What I Liked:
- This was an interesting look at two very different fallen beauties. Laura is a fictional character. She is a young seamstress who ends up pregnant and abandoned. She refuses to give up her child, and she ends up raising her alone, trying to support herself as she fights against the prejudice and criticism of the town. She is reminiscent of Hester in The Scarlet Letter. She is kind, pious, humble and determined. Edna St. Vincent Millay is the complete opposite. She is a woman who leads a bohemian lifestyle. She is spoiled, cruel, hedonistic, selfish, childlike, and amoral by the town's standards. She is married, but she has no respect for her vows. Millay has an endless line of lovers, male, female, married and single. She is the absolute opposite of Laura. Even though I couldn't stand Millay, it was interesting to compare and contrast the two characters. Laura was miserable as she tried to be the good girl and fit in with the town who judged and slighted her for her one mistake. Millay, on the hand, leads a reckless lifestyle and she has no regard for what others think. She chooses to live outside of society instead of fitting in. However, neither woman was truly happy.
- I was immediately drawn to Laura. She is a young girl in love who makes a mistake. Yet she never shirks from her transgression. She conceals the identity of her lover, refusing to even tell her sister. Laura bears her child out of wedlock and instead of giving her up, raises her on her own, all while trying to support herself. No matter who cruel the women of the town are she keeps her cool and turns the other cheek. I felt sorry for her as I watched her struggle, not thinking she deserves love or happiness. Thankfully by the end, she finds redemption, happiness and she learns some valuable truths about her enemies. Those who cast stones often are hiding their own terrible secrets. I truly enjoyed Laura's story.
- I appreciated that this book examined the ideals of society in the late 1920's and 1930's. It is a story of contrasts as you explore the indulgent and lavish lifestyle of Millay, a woman who wants for nothing, and on the flip side is Laura a woman who works and wants for everything. This book reveals the strict and cruel and impossible societal ideals. The question is do you choose to conform and fit in and be one of the crowd or go against the grain and beat your own drum?
- I liked that Laura's story wrapped up nicely and reached a satisfactory conclusion. I was pleased to see her find a bit of happiness after all the turmoil.
- I loved learning more about the fashions of the era.
And The Not So Much:
- While I was consumed with Laura's story, I detested Millay. This book is told through two view points: Laura's and Millay's. The chapters alternate between the two women, and I found myself disliking Millay's chapters because her narrative wasn't really a story, it was more emotion and artistic images, and there wasn't much that interested me. In fact, I couldn't stand Millay. She is a nasty, indulgent spoiled woman who managed to make a name for herself with her poetry. While I admired that she was able to break free of society and lead a carefree life, I didn't appreciate some of her choices. For instance, she has a kind, caring and doting husband, but she has little respect for him and their marital vows. She takes endless lovers, and even houses some of them in her own home, asking them to bed her right in front of her husband. She is drunk most of the time, and prone to bouts of hysteria. She is a hypochondriac prone to fits of depression. Millay is cruel to the servants in her home and she has no respect for anyone. When she doesn't get her way she has tantrums. Millay is an actual historical character, while Laura is fictional, and I much preferred Laura.
- I wish that the author had stuck to one name for Millay. The first time the chapter switched from Laura I was so confused as all of Millay's chapters are titled Vincent. I thought at first I was reading a man's point of view. Millay goes by many names, Vincent, Millay, Vincy, Edna, etc. I had a hard time keeping them all straight.
- I didn't feel like Millay's character was well developed. When I was reading her narratives they were confusing and jumbled, mostly artistic images and reflections on her wanton desires. I ended up reading the whole book and learning very little about this woman. How did she rise to fame? What happened to her? How did she die? The author could have done a much better job fleshing her out.
- The ending felt rushed compared to the rest of the book. The overall pace of the book is slow. At the end and Laura is about to final break free of her shackles after some stunning revealations, and then the book skips ten years in the future and provides what feels like a small Epilogue. I was disappointed that after all the drama and turmoil that I didn't get to see more of the happily ever after part. Millay's story doesn't have any type of ending, it just cuts off without further word.
Fallen Beauty was a difficult but interesting read. I struggled with Millay's character while I enjoyed Laura. This is what I term an artistic book that is trying to make a point as it compares and contrasts two very different fallen women. While there were many aspects I liked about this book, I know that it is going to appeal to a select audience. This is a good historical look at the lives of women in the early twentieth century. I liked the book, but I would recommend borrowing it before buying it.
"As we hurried toward the theater, it occurred to me that time was made of moments like doorways one could never go back through to the way it was after crossing them."
"A heart divided could never fully unite to another's."
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for this review.