American Rose by Karen Abbott

December 12, 2010
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American Rose
A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee
Karen Abbott

Random House
Hardcover/448 pages
ISBN: 978-1400066919
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". . . strips Gypsy bare with style and finesse."

Scholarly and provocative storytelling.

Rose Louise, known to the world as Gypsy Rose Lee, was an enigma: a beautiful woman with an ever changing story who had more secrets hidden up her sleeve than a magician. Her history changed as often as she changed her gloves and, like the tease she was, she obscured more with each retelling. Gypsy Rose Lee was intelligent, frustrating, talented, gifted and damaged.

In American Rose Karen Abbott veers between Gypsy’s past and present and lays bare the facts with scholarly precision and a storyteller’s eyes. Abbott intersperses her Gypsy’s life with a history of burlesque and the Minskys, laying the foundation of the burlesque circuit and evoking the Great Depression so that it comes alive. Although I found the chapters on burlesque and the Depression fascinating and informative, I found they distracted from Gypsy’s story. It is obvious Abbott has done her homework and knows the era well, but I would have preferred American Rose to be about Gypsy Rose Lee.

Ultimately, Abbott’s discerning eye and deft strokes illuminate an otherwise secretive and private woman with brains and a talent for showing herself in the best possible light. Abbott is no tease as she strips Gypsy bare with style and finesse. American Rose is as fractured as its subject but far more illuminating.

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell


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