You can take the girl out of Kansas, but you can’t take the Kansas out of the girl. Nell Plat is not the kind of person who plays the hand she is dealt. Married at 15 with two children by 17, Nell yearns for a better life – for a career. She’s feisty and talented and she escapes to the golden world of Hollywood in the early 1900s to become Madame Annelle – fashion designer for the stars.
As Erin McGraw begins her tale of The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard, it’s easy to sympathize with her character’s hunger to change her life. An early shocking twist in the story that leads Nell to success is believable but improbable, and as the story continues, Nell never seems to realize the damage she has left in her wake. The character’s luck is bound to run out – and it does.
From the point when Nell’s past catches up to her, the story becomes choppy and sometimes tedious, but it’s impossible to not wonder how it will all turn out. Is the novel’s ending a contrived Hollywood happy ending or a realistic jolt to a life of settling for what you can get? If you read the book, you will have to decide.
Set in a place and at a time when poor young women had few choices, the book initially seems to be praising anyone who is willing to sacrifice anything for a better life.
But, like any good story-teller, McGraw draws us in to think about what really constitutes the good life. Nell’s father cautions her “…Is this what you want out of your future?” when the 15 year old Nell plans to marry for all the wrong reasons. With a clear examination of cause and effect, McGraw inadvertently reminds us of other women –
maybe our own mothers – from the same generation as Nell – who did not run away from life’s struggles, and instead used their energies to make the best possible journey.
Erin McGraw’s Nell is not one of these women.