Last night I was pleased to attend a reading by Ellis Avery, author of The Teahouse Fire and the recently released The Last Nude, at my favorite independent bookstore, Talking Leaves in Buffalo, NY.
Although only a small group of people turned up for the reading (myself, two Canisius professors and two UB professors), it was a very enjoyable and intimate event. Avery, wearing a brown dress over jeans and a lilac scarf draped over her slim shoulders, began her talk with an introduction to her book.
Set in 1927 Paris, The Last Nude is inspired by Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka’s famous work, “Beautiful Rafaela,” which Avery was first exposed to in London while she was working on her first novel, The Teahouse Fire. She said she was completely struck by the painting and the information she read on the placard next to it. She was intrigued to learn the piece is one of many paintings of de Lempicka’s lover and surprised that two women would have had this type of relationship during the time period. She knew she wanted her next novel to explore this relationship.
After The Teahouse Fire was released, Avery began her research for The Last Nude, pouring over photos of de Lempicka’s paintings for hours, days, weeks. She immersed herself in fiction of the time, jotting down everyday details she could use — “anything sensuous that was too good to let go.”
The Last Nude tells the story of Rafaela, de Lempicka’s muse. However, because nothing is known about Rafaela — it is not even a certain fact that she was de Lempicka’s lover — Avery had the fun of creating her. In Avery’s mind, Rafaela is a young American girl recently arrived in Paris and without any money. In order to afford the black dress with a white collar necessary for a job at a department store, she agrees to model for the coolly dazzling woman who is Tamara de Lempicka. Avery read the first 10 pages of the novel, and since the reading ended at this point in the story, so will my introduction to the novel.
I have not read the book yet, but from Avery’s animated reading of it, it seems to be filled with delicious, sensuous details. I’m looking forward to cracking open my signed copy and delving into decadent whirl of de Lempica’s life in Paris and the tensions between love and lust.
During the Q&A session following the reading, Avery revealed a few tidbits about her next novel, for which she has begun research. Careful not to disclose too much since her work is still in very early stages, she admitted that the novel will be set in Arizona and that some of her research has been into two bank robbers known as the “Swamp King” and the “Swamp Queen,” who managed to rob many banks, taking the money and swooping away into the swamps, before being caught and killed by a sheriff. Avery left us with a haunting image: after killing the robbers, the sheriff removed the Swamp King’s glass eye and used it as a watch fob. It will definitely interesting to see what comes of this!