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The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard

Los Angeles Times Book Review

A novel of Hollywood in the 1920s; a breakout novel from an acclaimed writer.

From Publishers Weekly
Unfortunately for Nell Plat, the heroine of Erin McGraw's immersive fifth book (after The Good Life), she is a whiz with a needle, but a failure in the kitchen. While she makes a name for herself sewing dresses in early 20th-century Grant Station, Kans., her lack of kitchen prowess is crippling to her marriage, prompting her to leave her husband and two daughters for Hollywood, where with the help of a French grammar book, she becomes Madame Annelle, modiste to the fine ladies of Pasadena. She marries oilman George Curran, and has another daughter, Mary. Just as she realizes her dream, cutting fabric alongside an established and very esteemed seamstress, her past arrives on her doorstep in the form of her two grown daughters, flappers who call themselves Lisette and Aimée in an attempt at the sophistication they hope will land them in the movies. Nell claims them as her sisters, but the lie only delays the unraveling of her California dream. Inspired by her grandmother's story, McGraw captures the lonely rigor of life on the plains and the invigorating lure of reinvention. (Aug.)

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The Good Life

Los Angeles Times Book Review

Wryly comic stories about our attempts to better ourselves.

From Booklist
Since McGraw has already published three well-received books and received several residencies at well-known writers' colonies, it shouldn't come as a surprise that she has produced another meaty short-story collection. McGraw is one of those writers with the rare gift of truly capturing real people in fiction. Each of her stories--many examining interpersonal relationships with a spiritual undercurrent--gets to the heart of the matter. They examine such issues as the family baggage we tote through adulthood; the sad truths revealed hurtfully in love relationships; and the bonds, as well as the envy, judgment, and denial underlying complicated friendships. McGraw is clearly a skilled writer, well educated in the school of human nature. She observes, analyzes, and philosophizes about life in a way that gives rise to characters who speak honestly and to stories that always ring true. This is a strong and engaging story collection. (Janet St. John)

Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved.

Lies of the Saints

Los Angeles Times Book Review

Comic stories of dark families. "A writer to watch"

From Kirkus Reviews
A first collection that displays a sure hand and an even voice busily at work documenting the struggles of regular people trying to lead ordinary lives. At her best, McGraw encourages us to see sainthood in its human context, relevant to the most mundane experiences. Two of these nine stories have appeared in The Atlantic, others in small magazines, and most of them concern the stuff of domestic fiction--divorce, alcoholism, children. In ``The Return of the Argentine Tango Masters,'' an ex-husband arrives back in town to make things difficult for his remarried former wife, winning over her radio talk show audience with his smooth talk. A marriage gets off to a rocky start when the restaurateur of ``Rich'' is fooled at his engagement party into thinking he's won the lottery and decides on the spot to cancel his wedding, a mistake from which the eventual marriage seems incapable of recovering. Less plausibly, the young divorced woman in ``Her Father's House,'' a lifelong teetotaler, takes up drinking with a vengeance when her alcoholic father dies. ``A Suburban Story'' veers into the fantastical when a harried housewife is reported to have performed a miracle at a local clinic, even though her home life is in total disarray. This flirtation with saintliness emerges fully in the strongest part of the book, a triptych of related stories about a large Irish Catholic family, first seen through its mother, Mary Grace, who at 39, with five kids, begins to feel useless, old, and unappreciated. Ten years later, her daughter, the rosary-lusting 11-year-old Tracy, loses faith over the fate of her distemper- afflicted puppy. The last portrait, of a widowed Mary Grace many years later, finds her in conflict with her grown children over who had the firmer ``grip on holiness'' in her family. Without rancor, these poignant moral tales gently go beyond most family fiction; they would merit our attention even if that were their only distinction.

Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.