The Last Nude

Photo: Lara Robby/Studio D

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The Last Nude
320 pages; Riverhead Hardcover
The left bank in the '20s, famous artists, lots of (bi)sexuality and betrayal—what's not to love about Ellis Avery's romantic novel, The Last Nude (Riverhead)? Based on the lives of Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka and one of her muses, it tells the story of Rafaela, a young occasional prostitute who decides it's safer to get paid as an artist's model. But what Rafaela hasn't factored into the bargain is what would happen if she fell deeply in love with the secretive and very sexy Tamara, who may or may not love her back. Over the course of several months, Rafaela poses for Tamara, sleeps with her, and lives in the high-flying bohemian world of Gertrude Stein and an American journalist named Anson Hall, who might remind readers of Ernest Hemingway. Eventually—to no one's surprise except Rafaela's—Tamara (who, it is slowly revealed, almost never tells the truth about herself) trades her young lover for the most bourgeois of all passions: financial security. Did Tamara ever really care about Rafaela? In the last section of the book, told in the voice of an 80-something de Lempicka, Avery hints at an answer. Meanwhile, we've been loving this tough-but-vulnerable heroine all along.
— Sara Nelson