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Review: American Rose, by Karen Abbott


Pages: 397
Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Random House)
Why I decided to read: it was offered through Amazon vine
How I acquired my copy: Vine, October 2010
When Amazon Vine came out with their October newsletter, I told myself that I wouldn’t select anything; I’ve got way too many unread books lying around as it is! But when I saw that Karen Abbott, author of Sin in the Second City, had a new book out, I couldn’t resist. And who could? This nonfictional account of the life of a famous burlesque dancer was begging to be read.
But I was disappointed. Clearly, the author is interested in her topic, but her approach to the book was all wrong to me. The flashes backwards and forwards in time were very distracting to the flow of the book. and I feel as though the author skipped over a lot of stuff in order to get to the racy bits. As a result, I felt that Gypsy Rose Lee’s relationship with Michael Todd could have been fleshed out a lot more—I get the feeling that a lot more was going on there than the author lets on.
The author gives her reader a fascinating account of the death of vaudeville and the rise of burlesque, but I got very little sense of Gypsy Rose Lee herself and what made her so attractive as a performer. In fact, the book isn’t just about her; it’s also about the Minsky brother, Billy Minsky in particular, who ran several burlesque houses in New York City (despite Mayor Laguardia’s attempts to shut them down).
As with many popular history books of this type, it reads like a novel, which I enjoyed, but I expected this book to be more about Gypsy Rose Lee than about the Minsky brothers, who don’t appear to have had much impact on her career (I don’t know much about Gypsy Rose Lee’s life apart from what I’ve read in this book). I enjoyed reading about Gypsy Rose/ Louise’s childhood in vaudeville; what a nightmare of a mother she had! I also enjoyed reading about the relationship between Louise and her sister June, who ran away as a teenager in order to escape their mother. I’d have loved to see an analysis of Rose Hovick’s character, too—despite the fact that she was so dysfunctional, I would love to know exactly what made that woman tick! But the book is well-researched and interesting, despite my criticisms of it.

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