BOOK BIZ: The Beautiful American weaves in and out of real and unreal

» The Beautiful American By Jeanne Mackin Published by Penguin Books $16 paperback

» The Beautiful American
By Jeanne Mackin
Published by Penguin Books
$16 paperback

Readers may be surprised to find they enjoy this book. I usually cringe at the historical fiction genre and probably wouldn’t have read this book if I’d realized it falls into that category. But does it? One of the main characters, Lee Miller, was a real person and the other, Nora Tours, is not.

Certainly the book is full of real things that happened to Miller and set against a backdrop of real places and real events. However, the story, as told from Nora’s perspective, weaves in and out and all around the complexities of normalcy that afflict the fictional character. Which character is more real?

Lee Miller was a Vogue model in New York, friend of many luminaries living in Paris in the 1920s and ’30s, and one of the most influential photographers of World War II.

The Beautiful American is real and yet not real in the way The Paris Wife is real and yet fiction. It has all the glamorous elements that spark interest in fiction: fashion, modeling, photography, Paris in the ’20s and ’30s, World War II and Europe’s recovery.

Added bonuses are getting inside views of noted photographer Man Ray and the Surrealist photography movement and the perfume industry of Southern France.

The story begins with Lee and Nora as young girls in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Their paths cross again in New York and Paris before the war and in London after the war. Personal sorrow shadows both women and their interwoven lives. Layers and layers are peeled away as the story is told.

They’ve shared the best and the worst that life can offer — jealousy, betrayal, sorrow, the horrors of war — and through decades forge a meaningful connection.

Mackin lives in upstate New York and teaches in the creative writing program at Goddard College. She is also the author of The Sweet By and By, Dream of Empire, The Queen’s War, and The Frenchwoman.

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