The Beautiful American
by Jeanne Mackin
As 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.
Nora 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?
"I wasn't there," I said.
We finished our tea, carefully speaking only of what did not matter. The weather. The new fashions, new movies. She never mentioned Jamie, nor did I.
"I hear back in the States they have invented color television," Lee said.
"Have they?" I didn't have or want a television. All I wanted to see of the world was just outside my window in Grasse. I wanted to see the lavender fields, and I wanted to hold my daughter. At the table next to us, a little girl began to wail that she wanted her dolly and her mother leaned over and whispered in her ear. The child stopped wailing, but sobbed those awful silent tears of a bereft child.
"Has your father bought one? A color television?" I asked, distracted by the little girl. Mr. Miller had been keen on new gadgets, often buying things for the joy of taking them apart and putting them back together. Lee had inherited her mechanical ability from him. From my own father, Mr. Miller's yard man and gardener, I had inherited what in Grasse they called “a good nose.” I had been tested and could pick out three thousand different scents; most people could pick out only a few hundred.
"He'll probably try to build his own." Lee laughed. "And do it." We fell silent, overwhelmed.
"Look." She stood and pulled on her gloves. "Can you come to us this week-end? Come meet Roland. I married, you know. Twice, to be precise. Aziz and I married after you left Paris, but it didn't last. God, Cairo was so boring. But I think this one will last. Come meet the husband, and little Anthony. Yes, I have a child. A boy. The most beautiful little boy in the world. I'm absolutely besotted."
Pain knifed my chest. "I didn't plan a long stay," I said, trying to sound a touch careless, a little preoccupied with all the things I had to do. "And I didn't bring evening clothes. In fact, I am wearing my entire travel wardrobe."
It was a silly excuse but one that would do when the truth was too painful. I didn't want to see Lee holding her child. Lee, who had never wanted to marry, to have children, now had both husband and son. And my child was lost; her father, the man who should have been my husband, was an ocean away, living with a different wife, a different family.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Jeanne Mackin 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.
Jeanne will be awarding a photo/postcard collection from the 1920s (US/Canada only) to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Use the Rafflecopter link below to enter. You can follow her tour at http://goddessfishpromotions.blogspot.com/2014/08/excerpt-tour-beautiful-american-by.html
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