Thursday, January 6, 2011

Karen Abbott's "American Rose"

Karen Abbott worked as a journalist on the staffs of Philadelphia magazine and Philadelphia Weekly, and has written for and other publications. She is the author of Sin in the Second City.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee, and reported the following:
Page 99 of American Rose begins with Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother, Rose Hovick, telling her daughters a fable about a wolf devouring a little girl—one of many such tales in her repertoire. A few paragraphs later, Gypsy and her sister, bored during their downtime on the vaudeville circuit, are caught stealing from a Woolworth’s, and their tutor (employed only to keep child welfare authorities at bay) marches them back to their mother. Instead of thanking the tutor for her vigilance, Rose comforts her sobbing children and then turns on the tutor, her face arranged in an expression of terrifying calm. It is moments like this, when the volatile, mercurial Rose lashes out at others, that Gypsy feels most protected and loved. “We were together,” she thought. “We were warm and safe from outsiders who didn’t understand us.”

The page gets at the heart of the intense relationship between Gypsy and her mother, which in turn is the heart of the book. Rose developed a pattern early on in Gypsy’s life—pushing her away and pulling her close, threatening her and saving her—so that Gypsy feared both her mother’s absence and her presence, and couldn’t quite decide which was worse. After page 99, I examine their relationship further: “Theirs is a primal connection that Gypsy is incapable of severing, parallel to love and just as deep but rotten at its root. It is a swooning, funhouse version of love, love concerned with appearances rather than intent, love both deprived and depraved, love that has to glimpse its distorted reflection in the mirror in order to exist at all.” Gypsy spends most of her life disentangling herself from her mother and finding her own way, a venture that is tumultuous, dramatic, tragic, and, I think, ultimately triumphant.
Read an excerpt from American Rose, and learn more about the book and author at Karen Abbott's website.

The Page 69 Test: Sin in the Second City.

--Marshal Zeringue