Robuck follows her portrait of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald’s turbulent marriage (Call me Zelda, 2013) with another stormy literary portrait—Edna St. Vincent Millay and her relationships with both men and women.
In this novel, the narrative voices are presented antiphonally, alternating between Millay (called by her nickname, “Vincent”) and Laura Kelley, owner of a dress shop in the small town near Millay’s Steepletop estate. In 1928, when the novel opens, Millay is already an established poet and in an open marriage with wealthy Dutch businessman Eugen Boissevain—though “open” is perhaps an understatement: Both Millay and her husband encourage each other to take on lovers, and for Millay, this meant women as well, including the poet Elinor Wylie. In contrast, Kelley has had one brief sexual escapade, on her 19th birthday, and now, as a single mother, is raising her daughter, Grace, in a small and generally unforgiving small town near Steepletop. While Kelley is struggling to survive economically, especially once the townspeople turn their backs on her, Millay and Eugen live a profligate and free-spirited life with friends and lovers. One day, Eugen spots Kelley and knows instinctively that Millay would enjoy wooing her, and much of the rest of the novel is taken up by Millay’s advances, sometimes subtle and sometimes conspicuous. Although Kelley, whose brother-in-law has already been seduced by Millay, is not ready to engage in even more scandalous behavior, Millay is a source of lucrative dress orders that Laura finds hard to turn down. So they play an amatory game of cat-and-mouse. But for as captivating as Millay can be, her relationship with Eugen lacks drama, rendering the book less compelling than Robuck’s earlier portrayal of Zelda and Scott.
Well-written and insightful, with Millay in particular a fascinatingly complex character.