Cover Image: An Elegant Woman

An Elegant Woman

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

An Elegant Woman is a multigenerational story that is very well written.  I wanted to love this one, but there was something off.
Was this review helpful?
I have tried and tried to get into this book, but it is just not able to catch or keep my interest. I was not able to finish the book.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you so much for the opportunity to read and review this book. While this title is no longer within the realm of my current reading interests I appreciate the opportunity in receiving an ARC.
Was this review helpful?
A firm editorial hand was missing in the opening pages of this novel which introduces a slew of family connections about as inviting as someone narrating their dreams. After that it settles into a more engaging account of sisters surviving a family disruption, but the inclination toward personal history persists, which is fine if that’s to the reader’s taste.
Was this review helpful?
The story opens as a family cleaning through the basement of grandma.  The story evolves as items are found and the narration begins.  The book is a bit confusing in regards to the flipping from past to present and back again.  The story begins with Isadora, Tommy’s favorite granddaughter sorting through family heirlooms of a sort with her siblings after their mother dies.  Tommy and her sister Katherine are left to be cared for by a loving couple, kind people who took them in when their mother Glenna who has left their adulterous father, leaves them to teach and follow her ideals. The mother continues to takes them back and moves them from place to place, and leaving them on their own with Tommy, so young at 12 to be head of household.  All of this making for complicated relationship between the sisters, between mothers and daughters that continues to be complex over the years. Tommy moves forward in many ways carrying her mother’s notions of their ancestry, compelled to ensure that her children do better than she did, just as she wanted a better life than her mother, money and status and a seemingly perfect life. Questionable decisions with good intentions make it difficult to fully like or dislike these characters. I enjoyed the story and imaging the stories my only grandmother's told me and how discovering or having items of my grandmother the stories they represent and hold within them.  The story begins with Isadora, Tommy’s favorite granddaughter sorting through family heirlooms of a sort with her siblings after their mother dies.
Was this review helpful?
If you were to tell your family story, how much of it would be factual and how much would be revisionist history. "An Elegant Woman" shares the family lore and and specifics of the matriarch (Glenna) and her daughters who leave a small town in Ohio to reinvent themselves in rugged Montana. The girls survival skills are miraculous as they have to fend for themselves. As time goes by and lives are lived, their lives are reexamined by Glenna's granddaughter. What the author reminds us, who we are and who we present ourselves to be as can be a totally different persona. Thank you to the author, Scribner and Netgalley for the ARC.
Was this review helpful?
I really wanted to like this book. I love historical fiction and I find family sagas particularly interesting. The book started out with promise, four sisters cleaning out their grandmother's house after her passing and find a lot of interesting things in her attic. My problem was that the story jumps around in time, a lot of information didn't really seem to enhance the narrative. The story seems to center on Grammy or also known as Thelma, Tommy or Katherine. I just couldn't follow all the characters and the flow of the story. At 16% I realized I was skimming and trying to find something I felt was relevant. Maybe in another time I would love this book but now isn't the time.

Thank you to Netgalley and Scribner for providing me with a copy of this book.
Was this review helpful?
I am not drawn into the story at all. Unfortunately I'm going to choose to DNF An Elegant Woman. I was so intrigued by the premise, but it's just too tedious.
Was this review helpful?
The story of Tommy/Thelma/Katherine/ Grammy beginning with her repeated abandonment by her mother left to raise herself and her sister in the northwest then moving east alone to become a nurse then wife, mother and grandmother.  The story spans decades and chronicles her long life and legacy as she take what she wants along the way.   A comfortable story but I wasn't as engage as I would have liked.
Was this review helpful?
I love a good multi-generational story, and this one was perfectly satisfying. It took a little bit for me to get used to the alternating voices, but once I did I really enjoyed that aspect of it. This would be perfect for fans of The Most Fun We Ever Had or Commonwealth.
Was this review helpful?
Sifting through the pages of a family’s history. This is the premise that binds the generations as a family’s history is revealed. I found the women resourceful and resilient. Isadora in particular was a character that captures the page. Touching on history without malice,we see a woman who changes the story before her on the plains of the west. She inspires and instructs , Stands up against tyranny over women which braves the way for a new way of conducting business in the frontier. A great feminine’s novel. Happy reading
Was this review helpful?
This inter generational family saga draws you in. You get to know the characters, love some, hate some, admire some, feel sorry for some. The fact that it is based on the women of the author's family made it such a joy to read. The message of the growing empowerment for women threaded throughout here is done with subtle grace and love.

The setting, characters and situations rang completely true to me. All the choices we make and the consequences we endure. McPhee’s book is a triumph. Not many novels can elevate the struggle of ordinary lives into the epic tales they deserve to be, but Ms. McPhee accomplishes this with grace. This is a fascinating book that deserves to be read more than once. A beautiful, emotional ride.  I could not put the book down and did not want the story to end.
Was this review helpful?
A "moving, multigenerational saga" is one that always piques my interest. At the start I quite liked this one, the writing was lovely and the idea of cleaning out the house and sifting through many artifacts and memories of the strong matriarchs in the family was intriguing. However, it begins to run dry, and I struggled to keep up with the many names and the overall focus of the story. This kind of story should have been something that I connected with and strongly, but I found that I just could not connect with it much at all. Sadly. It wasn't one that I wanted to reach for every chance I got and that unfortunately is a clear indication it just isn't working as well for me as I had hoped.
Was this review helpful?
Martha McPhee's fifh novel is a lyrical, elegant family saga, based partly on her own family history.  The narrator, Isadora, is a writer and novelist whose grandmother (Grammy) has recently died. Isadora, one of four sisters, is the only family member who is interested in the past.  She sifts  through a web of Grammy's papers in a trunk to recereates her complex life.  

As a child, Grammy was known as  Tommy, an eccentric, boyish pioneer girl who once skinned coyotes in Montana but later stole her sister Katherine's identity to apply to nursing school in New York, using Katherine's high school diploma. (Tommy had dropped out of school and supported Katherine financially.)  Isabella tries to explore what is tangled truth and what is false in Grammy's stories.  At any rate, she became an upper-class lady.

I love Isadora's distant, graceful voice, but Tommy/Katherine outshines all of her descendants.  
Her mother, Glenna, a suffragist and leftist,  deserts Tommy, age 6, and her younger sister Katherine on a train to Montana in the custody of a group of nuns and does not return.   Days later, the nuns find Glenna, but Glenna does many disappearing tricks during the girls' childhood. Tommy and Katherine often live alone while Glenna teaches elsewhere in one-room schoolhouses. Tommy raises Katherine alone, pushing her to do well in school, while she makes a living skinning and trading coyote skins. When Katherine decides to change her name to Patricia and move west,  Tommy becomes Katherine.  

The situation sounds melodramatic, but the cadences of McPhee's poetic prose  the rugged fascination with the past, and her humor  make us believe in the importance of Katherine/Tommy's family stories, even when they are false.

Isabella writes,

"If Grammy was our version of Homer, I was Herodotus. I wanted to tell a history, but my allegiances were more toward providing a sense of character. My sisters, on the other hand, were straight-up historians in the mode and model of Thucydides. They required the documentation, the verification, the proof. They were fully possessed of the world’s cynicism, of the fact of realpolitik as the true measure of how things happen in human affairs. Long before she died, thus, they had stopped paying attention to Grammy’s tales. It fell to me, therefore, to be the keeper of the family stories, my inheritance from Grammy.

And, in case you're interested, McPhee is the daughter of the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer John McPhee. 
An enjoyable, gracefully-written novel.
Was this review helpful?
This century-spanning family saga’s summary caught my attention with a description of 3 sisters organizing their grandmother’s possessions after her death “trying to decide what to salvage and what to toss.” (After performing these tasks at my own grandfather’s home last year I felt especially drawn to this topic.) An Elegant Woman is author Martha McPhee’s family history, including all the stories that have been passed down, leaving room for multiple revisions and embellishment through 4 generations of women. The 400 page book reads like a novel, but exists in that strange spot somewhere between non-fiction and fiction…creative non-fiction. I liked reading this but would tend to drift off thinking about my own family stories. I highlighted a lot of great lines throughout that were powerful not only in relation to the story but to me personally (controlling your own narrative, the vicious repetitions of motherhood, familial expectations, etc.) Readers who want a traditional story structure (beginning, middle, major event, climax, conclusion) may not like this, but if you enjoy individual family histories and are open to a more abstract story structure you should give it a shot.
Was this review helpful?
An intricately woven and introspective look at the meaning of women's lives, structured around a multigenerational look at their loves and secrets. Deliberately paced, but glittering with insights.
Was this review helpful?
While going through her grandmother’s treasures novelist Isadora discovers the stories behind all these treasures is really myth. The reality of this upper-class family is entirely different. Looking at her Grammy’s life, Isadora is involved in a history from early twentieth-century Billings Montana to a prohibition-era Adirondacks lakeside cabin, Isadora finds herself immersed in a family history of women who took charge of their own lives.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to NetGalley and Scribner for the opportunity to read this book.  It was not a fast read, but I found I am thinking about it long after finishing it.  This shared family history and the time periods that encompassed it were quite interesting.  The most fascinating aspect, however, was how one's own understanding of events, memory, reinvention can shape a life.  Matriarch Glenna is a smart, determined woman who loves her family, but is a terrible mother, as she tries to reinvent her life and the lives of her two daughters when she heads west sans her adulterous husband.  This lack of good parenting results in her daughter Tommy becoming the caretaker of her little sister, Katherine.  When Tommy realizes Katherine doesn't want her big sister's dreams for her life, Tommy decides that she wants the for herself.  The go separate ways and Katherine (now called Pat) deals with life as it happens to her while Tommy (now called Katherine) makes and takes the life she wants.  Their children rediscover their stories and rend their own interpretation of people and events, while deciding their futures and pasts for themselves.  This was both historically and psychologically interesting.
Was this review helpful?
I received this from Netgalley.com for a review.

"Drawn from the author’s own family history, An Elegant Woman is a story of discovery and reinvention, following four generations of women in one American family."

Kind of a meandering tale, I had a hard time getting into the story and found myself reading sections twice to remind myself of who was who and what was what.

2 stars
Was this review helpful?
I had a little trouble staying focused throughout the book. There were sections that I found interesting but with the frequent bouncing around between different characters, I couldn't keep track of who's who very well. The part that I got had a lot to do with fear. Two children were often abandoned by their mother; so, the eldest had to take care of her little sister and in doing so, felt deprived and wanting. This would cause her to make a decision that would affect them the rest of their lives. The stories didn't flow well, but each character's lives were impacted by the decisions their families made. This is a multigenerational story with most focus on the two sisters.
Was this review helpful?