Karen Abbott | Maxim's | Literary Events | Chicago Reader

Karen Abbott Recommended Critics' Picks

When: Wed., Jan. 12, 6:30 p.m. 2011

Karen Abbott's first book, Sin in the Second City (2007), centered on the Everleigh Club, a sumptuous Chicago bordello kept by sisters Ada and Minna Everleigh from 1900 to 1911. Abbott continues her inquiry into the genteel side of the sex trade with American Rose, a biography of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, who made her initial splash in Depression-era burlesque. Starting out as second fiddle in a sad-sack vaudeville act, Louise Hovick rose high as Gypsy. Famous and smart, she wrote books and hobnobbed with the famous and smart, from Carson McCullers to gangster Waxey Gordon. Yet she remained a very private person. Abbott makes us care about Lee and supplies some incisive new anecdotes but gets no closer to her than Arthur Laurents did in the frustrating interviews he conducted with Lee while working on the script for the 1959 musical Gypsy. The narrative we end up with is the one we already know from that show: batshit-crazy stage mom Rose drove one daughter (actress June Havoc) to run away and the other to titillate men for money. Abbott's great insight into her subject is suggested by her choice of epigraph--Jean-Paul Sartre's observation that "genius is not a gift, but the way a person invents in desperate circumstances." Abbott is making multiple Chicago-area appearances. --Pat J. Daily

Price: $25

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