Dual biographical fiction from debut novelist Huber detailing the lives of Margery Williams, best known as the author of The Velveteen Rabbit (1922), and her brilliant but troubled daughter, Pamela Bianco.
Starting portentously three days before Margery’s death in 1944, the novel smoothly transitions from Margery’s to Pamela’s point of view, with frequent flashbacks to earlier periods of their lives. While Margery may be the better known of the two today, during their lifetimes, Pamela Bianco was arguably more famous. A child art prodigy, Pamela held her first solo exhibition in London at the age of 13 and was brought to the United States by patron Gertrude Vanderbilt shortly thereafter. However, to Margery, Pamela was a worrisome daughter who fought bouts of depression and mania, struggled in her romantic relationships, and couldn’t always care for her son, Lorenzo. In fact, for much of the novel, Margery is concerned about her adult daughter, as she reminisces about major incidents in their lives. For example, Margery attributes her headache to apprehension over Pamela’s potential depression. Running through the novel is Margery’s undercurrent of regret for permitting her husband, Francesco, to capitalize on Pamela’s talent. Drawing on varied archival sources, the novel fascinates with the primary plot as well as allusions to illuminati of the art and literary communities with whom the Williams/Bianco family interacted (including Eugene O’Neill, Richard Hughes, Oona O’Neill Chaplin, and Pablo Picasso). In her endnotes, author Huber clearly delineates what is factual and what is speculation. For example, Pamela’s infatuation with family friend Diccon, aka Richard Hughes, is documented in Hughes’ papers at Indiana University. Huber’s reliance on primary sources, coupled with her luminous prose, creates an unforgettable sojourn into the lives of early 20th-century artists. At the same time, she effortlessly portrays the madness and addiction, which were regularly untreated in those days, that so often accompany genius. Despite much of the novel being introspective rather than action-oriented, it is fast-paced and difficult to put down.
A novel as brilliant, but at times as troubling, as the subjects themselves.