Astonishingly well written, and set in the evocative locations of earthquake-ravaged San Francisco and the Monterey Peninsula, the story of two women—a wife and a poet—who learn the high price of sexual and artistic freedom in a vivid depiction of the debauchery of the late Gilded Age.
Nora May French and Carrie Sterling arrive at Carmel-by-the-Sea at the turn of the 20th century with dramatically different ambitions. Nora, a stunning, brilliant, impulsive writer in her early twenties, seeks artistic recognition and bohemian refuge among the most celebrated counter-culturalists of the era. Carrie, long-suffering wife of the poet George Sterling, wants the opposite: a semblance of the stability she thought her advantageous marriage would offer, now that her philandering husband has taken to writing poetry.
After her second abortion, Nora finds herself in an alarmingly desperate situation, but is rescued by an invitation to stay with the Sterlings. To Carrie’s dismay, the arrestingly beautiful poetess allows herself to be seduced by George. The ensuing love triangle—which ultimately ends in the deaths of all three—is more than just a wild love story and a fascinating, forgotten chapter. It questions why Nora May—in her day a nationally revered poet whose suicide gruesomely inspired youths across the country to take their own lives, with her verses in their pockets no less—has been rendered obscure by literary history. It depicts America at a turning point, as the Gilded Age groans in its death throes and young people, particularly young women, look toward a bright, progressive, more egalitarian future.
In an unfortunately familiar development, this vision proves a mirage. But women’s rage at the scam redefines American progressivism forever.
Story Locale: Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA; San Francisco, CA