Women found him so easy to love. Clay Bowen had it all—charisma, good looks, and power in the glamorous world of television. Laura, the delicate dancer, gave up her dazzling career to marry him and have his child. Nina excelled at everything—except capturing her father’s complete attention. Bambi, his ruthless young “assistant,” thought she was using him. And Susan, a brilliant writer, couldn’t bear to think their twenty-year bicoastal romance was too good to be true.
In her most riveting novel since The Best of Everything, Rona Jaffe weaves a compelling story of passion and obsession. Moving from the glittering capitals of the world and the epicenter of the TV and movie industries to the darkest depths of the human heart, she holds her readers captive to the very last page.
Praise for An American Love Story
“Jaffe comprehends the ambivalence of women in love like few other contemporary novelists.”—New Woman
“Compelling . . . a novel of growth, despair, destruction and realization—a novel to read and have a daughter read.”—UPI
“Savvy and sharp.”—St. Petersburg Times
“Thoughtful, provocative.”—San Antonio Express-News
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
On this autumn night that would change her life forever, Laura Hays sat in front of her dressing room mirror for the last time, carefully penciling her eyes to make them huge, and thought what a miracle it was that every single one of her dreams had come true. For little girls training to be ballerinas, their dream was to be accepted by the famed Rudofsky at his Metropolitan Ballet. And greater than that, if a girl would allow herself such a dream, would be to have Rudofsky create a ballet just for her. If that happened, then forever after people who loved dance would remember her. Rudofsky had created Sinners for Laura Hays. She had danced the lead for three years now, to critical acclaim. And tonight at twenty-eight she was leaving her envied career, telling everybody good-bye with no regret at all, because the last of her dreams had come true: the baby she now knew she carried inside her.
Small and fiery, too thin, intense, nervous, she wore her dark hair pulled straight back, the way all the girls in the company did; but on her it gave her the look of some kind of ethereal bird. She was pretty in such an offbeat way that it became beauty. She looked at herself in the mirror and smiled. Nobody but her doctor and her husband, Clay Bowen, knew that the baby would be dancing Sinners with her onstage tonight. That fragile little life, scarcely the size of a fingernail, the fragile little life she would protect forever, would be having the first of their shared experiences together.
The other girls would not be sorry she was leaving. The best ones would wonder which of them would be chosen to dance the lead in Sinners now. Rudofsky would be upset. He would not want to replace her, and would tell her she had to come back after the baby was born. It was nice to know he wanted her, but she wasn’t coming back. This baby would have a real childhood, which Laura had never had, and from now on she herself would have a normal life as a devoted wife and mother. No more mandatory starving. No more constant physical pain. No more fear of injuries, nor dancing through them, filled with painkiller that never seemed to work. And, the best: all her evenings spent with Clay.
Laura Hays Bowen … Mrs. Clay Bowen … It had taken her two years to get pregnant. They had been trying from the very beginning of their marriage, and finally this morning her doctor had confirmed the wonderful news. Something fluttered inside her. Fear? Certainly not the baby, it was too small to flutter, all it could do was cling. For a moment Laura wondered if it was dangerous to dance tonight, but then she put the fear aside. It would be so nice to tell her daughter—it just had to be a girl—that they had danced together on a vast stage in front of a huge audience, and that everyone had applauded and cheered and given them both roses.
Whenever she thought about Clay, Laura felt herself melting. She loved him so much.… She remembered the first time she ever saw him, at a restaurant where the dancers often went for dinner after the performance. Someone had brought him along, and he was at their large round raucous table. He was a talent agent at AAI, someone said; very up-and-coming, a boy wonder. At first glance he didn’t look so amazing: about five feet eleven, average build, with sandy blond hair and hazel eyes—attractive but average, she thought. And then he leaned toward her and smiled, and suggested a drink she’d never had—a martini with vodka in it instead of gin—and it wasn’t what he said that was amazing, it was his charm. No, it was more than charm; it was genuine charisma, a way of making her feel that being with him would be an adventure, that tonight would be wonderful, and that he would take care of her.
And he had. He called, he sent flowers, he pursued her, he found times for them to be together every day or night, even though both their days and nights were filled with the demands of their careers. He talked to her about real things, not small talk the way other men did, he gently massaged her feet, and when she talked to him he really listened. His tenderness enveloped her. “Your poor toes in those toe shoes,” he said, holding her naked foot, “like little bound lotus feet from the ancient Chinese. It’s so barbaric. But you create so much poetry from it. With your strength. Your talent.”
“Some people find my poor feet erotic,” she said. “Like cleavage. I think it’s sick.” They looked at each other and laughed.
They talked to each other about their childhoods. Hers had been comfortable, even privileged. It was an accident that her gym teacher had found her walking down the hall en pointe in her little sneakers, holding on to the wall. She was seven. Such natural talent! Such ambition! So her future began. Clay’s life was not so protected. Brought up in a very small town where his father worked in one of the liquor stores, he had been just a skinny, nondescript-looking boy, delivering wine and liquor after school to the rich people who lived on the nearby estates. He wanted to get out of that town, to go to New York, to go to college, to be somebody in show business. Yes, he wanted money, but he wanted his life to mean something. He knew how bored the rich people on those vast estates were, how unhappy, and that their lives held sad stories.
He told Laura about the suicide. Clay had been fourteen. The woman had been twenty-six, beautiful, married to a very rich man. A crazy woman, he thought now, looking back, but then he’d had a crush on her; long-distance, romantic. And one afternoon, carrying in a case of champagne, he had found the body. She had shot herself through the heart. White-carpeted stairs, white wall-to-wall carpet, and the red blood. Death. “I’ll never forget the smell,” he said, and his eyes filled with tears.
“Suicide …” Laura said. “No one should ever have to be that miserable.”
“Or that alone,” Clay said, and held her hand.
“Whenever we’re dancing the section where my partner is holding me up above his head, I feel a real wave of fear,” Laura told him. “I know how big and strong those guys are, but still I’m afraid he’ll drop me. I can’t ever quite get over being afraid of that.”
“I’ll never drop you,” Clay said.
They went to bed together, and then they moved in together, and then her mother gave them a lovely wedding. And two years later, at only twenty-nine, Clay had bought himself and Laura a beautiful apartment in The Dakota, an elegant, historical old building on Central Park West, overlooking the park. “Our lives will always be wonderful,” he said.
Our lives will always be wonderful.…
Now in her dressing room Laura leaned forward and put black eye shadow on her lids, extending it far outward, then glued on the spidery false eyelashes, and last, very carefully, applied the black lipstick. She was proud of the makeup; it was so bizarre, and so right for the part, and she had created it herself.
The dresser came in and zipped up her sexy red costume. Clay would be in the audience tonight. Usually he was so busy with clients it was simply understood that he and Laura each had to do their separate work and they met late at night at home, but tonight was a landmark event. And afterward they would go out to celebrate.
It was time to go onstage. The hushed moment, the instant of terrified stage fright, then the familiar music, and her run out into the golden light. The applause; warm, familiar. And then the joy of motion, of expressing the passionate feelings of her character, and of herself too. While she danced, Laura remembered how much she loved doing this despite the restrictions it had placed on her. But it was also something she had chosen over twenty years ago, when she knew nothing. She had wanted it enough to be willing to give up her life for it, until now. She would never regret any of it. She would always be grateful it had been hers. She would not be giving up dance entirely, only the applause: she would continue to go to ballet classes, but on a normal schedule, like a normal person. She loved movement and she always would.
Good-bye, she thought, leaping higher than she ever had before. Good-bye …
And then the curtain went down, and for the last time there was the applause; like pelting rain, like pelting love. She took her curtain calls, and of course there was her armful of red roses. Thank you, she mouthed, smiling. Thank you … for all three of us. And thought: And my life begins.