A powerful, moving multigenerational saga from National Book Award finalist Martha McPhee that explores one family’s story against the sweep of 20th-century American history.
On a winter day in 1910, at a train station in Ohio, two girls wait in the cold with their mother to begin a new life in the West. Tommy, the eldest, feels responsible for her sister, and in the years to come, as their mother campaigns for women’s suffrage and teaches in one-room schoolhouses across Montana, she takes care of Katherine: trapping animals, begging, keeping house, cooking, while her sister goes to school. But as soon as Katherine graduates, Tommy makes a decision that will change the course of both of their lives—separating the two sisters forever, sending one to California and the other to New York.
A profound meditation on memory, history, and legacy, ten years in the writing, An Elegant Woman follows one woman over the course of the 20th century, taking the reader 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. Through betrayals, revelations, separations, and reunions, the story illuminates the complexities of class, race, feminism, and family, the sacrifices and compromises that go into making a life. Framed by Tommy’s granddaughter Isadora’s efforts to retell her grandmother’s journey, An Elegant Women is an evocative family saga and a compelling exploration of the stories we tell ourselves—and what we leave out.
Martha McPhee is the author of the novels An Elegant Woman, Bright Angel Time, Gorgeous Lies, L’America, and Dear Money. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Gorgeous Lies was a finalist for the National Book Award. She teaches fiction at Hofstra University and lives in New York City.