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Jan 10, 2012
In 1927, Tamara de Lempicka was one of the fastest rising stars of the Parisian art scene, with a distinctive style built on sharp lines and bold colors that stood out even among its Art Deco contemporaries. Ellis Avery, the Lambda-winning author of The Teahouse Fire, turns this pivotal year in Tamara's career into a Character Approved drama of love, manipulation, and betrayal in her latest novel, The Last Nude.
Avery creates a backstory for some of Tamara's most famous paintings from that year, such as La Belle Rafaela and The Dream, imagining their model Rafaela as a 17-year-old girl from New York City who ran off to Paris to escape her parents' attempt to marry her to an Italian cousin. She's walking through the Bois de Boulogne, looking for one of her friends so she can borrow 100 francs to buy a dress she needs for a new job, when Tamara steps out of her car and asks if she'll model for her. Rafaela ends up bailing on the job to continue posing at Tamara's apartment studio, and soon becomes caught up in a passionate affair with the older, sophisticated artist. (And while the details of Rafaela's life in Paris may be imagined, Tamara's recruitment of her as both a model and lover are true.)
The love scenes are highly charged, but what matters most in The Last Nude is how the relationship sets Rafaela on the path to confident adulthood. Though confused about her feelings at first, she comes to realize (with help from some timely visits to the legendary Shakespeare & Company bookstore run by Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monneur) that it would be possible for two women to make a life for themselves together. The question is: Does Tamara care about Rafaela as a person, or as the inspiration for beautiful paintings that drive wealthy art collectors to fight each other to possess? But just when you think you know the answer, Avery flips the board and makes you see the story through Tamara's eyes. The reversal adds one final layer of poignancy to a powerful novel of self-awakening.
[Image: The Dream, Tamara de Lempicka]