For fans of Mary Beth Keane and Jennifer Egan, this powerful, moving multigenerational saga from National Book Award finalist Martha McPhee - 10 years in the making - explores one family’s story against the sweep of 20th century American history.
Drawn from the author’s own family history, An Elegant Woman is a story of discovery and reinvention, following four generations of women in one American family. As Isadora, a novelist, and two of her sisters sift through the artifacts of their forebears’ lives, trying to decide what to salvage and what to toss, the narrative shifts to a winter day in 1910 at a train station in Ohio. Two girls wait in the winter cold with their mother - the mercurial Glenna Stewart - to depart for a new life in the West. As Glenna campaigns in Montana for women’s suffrage and teaches in one-room schoolhouses, Tommy takes care of her little sister, Katherine: Trapping animals, begging, keeping house, cooking, while Katherine goes to school. When Katherine graduates, Tommy makes a decision that will change the course of both of their lives.
A profound meditation on memory, history, and legacy, An Elegant Woman follows one woman over the course of the 20th century, taking the listener from a drought-stricken farm in Montana to a yellow Victorian in Maine; from the halls of a psychiatric hospital in London to a wedding gown fitting at Bergdorf Goodman; from a house in small town Ohio to a family reunion at a sweltering New Jersey pig roast. Framed by Isadora’s efforts to retell her grandmother’s journey - and understand her own - the novel is an evocative exploration of the stories we tell ourselves, and what we leave out.