The Beautiful American by Jeanne Mackin, Excerpt and Give Away
The Beautiful American
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.
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?
come for tea with me?" she asked.
She hadn't lost her startling spontaneity.
an appointment," I lied.
"Please. Just for a few minutes. I'd love the company. I just bought a new hat and really don't know
if it works or not. I need another woman's opinion." The hat was just an excuse, of course.
I agreed reluctantly.
with delight. "Okay!" she echoed. "That beautiful American
word. Oh, how wonderful to talk with
another American. Follow me. "
We dodged between jammed and honking cars,
splashing through puddles, to a tea room across the street. Without waiting for the hostess, Lee took the
best available table, by the center window.
get over the traffic," she said with a sigh. "You take your life in
your hands just trying to cross the street. During the war there wasn’t a car
in sight, most afternoons. Certainly not at night, during the blackout."
When she took
off her coat and draped it over the chair between us, her perfume tingled in my
nostrils, expensive and slightly burning from a note of geranium oil. The scent of geranium swept me back to
Grasse, to the dark mixing room, the shelves of bottles, the locked safe where
the formula was kept. Jamais de la Vie was an expensive perfume, still made by
the enfleurage method, each flower petal hand pressed into a sheet of lard to
capture its fragrance. Lee was wearing
the equivalent of a hundred roses and jasmine flowers. She leaned closer.
"Were you here for the bombing, or did you go back to the
wasn't used to the openness with which some people spoke of those years. For
me, they were locked boxes. I was also
taken aback by how much I knew about Lee, and how very little she knew about
me. Friends and family had made sure
that, for years, I knew of Lee's doings, her work and travel, her lovers.
Obviously no one had thought to give her news of me. But that is the nature of
fame, isn't it? Lee was famous.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
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.