Friday, March 16, 2012

New in Paperback: American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare, The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee by Karen Abbott

Following on the success of 2007’s magnificent Sin in the Second City, author Karen Abbott seems determined to build a career writing books about sexy seductresses of the past. Sin in the Second City revolved around sisters Minna and Ada Everleigh, two turn of the century Chicago madams who “decided that creating a fantasy for others was better than pretending to live in one.”

If American Rose is less magnificent, it’s not for lack of trying. It's just that, sometimes, it feels as though Abbott is stretching everything so tight it just might break. The thing is, not a lot is known for sure about Gypsy Rose Lee. That is, like an early Madonna, the stripper and entertainer was constantly reinventing both herself and her story and trying to look at her closely, you get the idea that you’re attempting to peer through one of the scarves she wielded with such skill.

But the story, that’s the thing, right? And Abbott brings us along with a novelist’s skill and panache, a story she begins in a note from the author, sharing details of research missions and meetings with Gypsy’s son and sister. The latter meeting, especially, is imbued with pathos and drama worthy of anything in the book.

According to her biography, Abbott is currently at work on “a true story of the Civil War told through the perspectives of four women who risked everything for their cause.” It will be a different story, certainly, but will likely supply an abundance of that pathos and drama Abbott does so well. And, oh yes: it will probably be magnificent. ◊

Aaron Blanton is a contributing editor to January Magazine. He’s currently working on a book based on his experiences as an American living abroad.

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