“A portrait of self-creation in the vein of F. Scott Fitzgerald”,” (The Wall Street Journal) An Elegant Woman is “a rich exploration of legacy and memory” (Entertainment Weekly) that follows four generations of women against the sweep of 20th century American history.
Drawn from the author’s own family history, this powerful, moving multigenerational saga from National Book Award finalist Martha McPhee masterfully explores the stories we tell ourselves, and what we leave out.
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 story 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.
Told “with an easy grace many historical novels lack” (Los Angeles Times), An Elegant Woman follows one woman over the course of the 20th century, taking us from a drought-stricken Montana farm 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 “sharp, precise, and, yes, elegant” (The Boston Globe) in its gorgeous depiction of one hundred years in a family’s history.