A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity: A Novel

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9780375505454: A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity: A Novel
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The bestselling author of How to Make an American Quilt transports us to San Francisco in the early 1980s, a magical, fog-shrouded city suffused—as are many of its denizens—with possibility and restless energy. In A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity, Whitney Otto’s charac-ters congregate night after night at a North Beach bar called the Youki Singe Tea Room, their lives conjoined by the bonds of friendship and shared experience. At the Youki Singe, the stories of these young people’s lives—their parties, their eccentric living situations, their passions for books and art and one another—are recorded in one patron’s “pillow book,” her version of the intimate journals of the courtesans of Edo Japan. Meanwhile, though, the careless joys of the drifting life are giving way to a desire to find something more substantial, a need to belong to something or someone.

The title A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity is taken from a series of woodblock prints by the eighteenth-century artist Utamaro, a master at depicting Japan’s legendary Floating World, where, it is said, the patrons of the great pleasure quarters—and their escorts—devoted them-selves to the pursuit of music, sex, food, poetry, theater, and fashion. Now, two hundred years later and an ocean away, the young men and women of Otto’s San Francisco find themselves in their own version of a Floating World.
Illustrated with more than two dozen beautifully reproduced woodblock prints, A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity conjures an atmosphere both dreamy and contemporary. Whitney Otto engages the senses as well as the mind while exploring the intricacies, the trouble, and the rapture of human connection.

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Set in San Francisco in the 1980s, A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity is a novel of late youth--the final indulgences and excesses of a group of friends before paths are chosen, before character is set. Whitney Otto (How to Make an American Quilt) takes as her inspiration the floating world depicted in Japanese prints of the Edo period. Her characters, most of them denizens of the Youki Singe Tea Room in North Beach, live in the moment. They are unambitious, minimally employed, well-educated, and self-indulgent. Dreamers of various kinds, the women (who have artful names like Jelly, Coco, Gracie, and Theo) are passionate about their friendships, their parties, and their appearance. The narrative is as fluid as the characters, sometimes delivering a perfectly formed short story about a minor figure, and other times tracing back to explain a pivotal high school incident. Readers who give themselves over to this flowing story line, and to the shifting array of characters, will find this a rewarding and oddly moving novel. A Collection of Beauties perfectly evokes a particular mood of watchfulness, as its characters wait for their world to form around them. --Regina Marler

From the Back Cover:

Advance praise for A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity

“With supreme delicacy and an imaginative combination of the arts, Whitney Otto has produced a truly original addition to our American literature.”—Carolyn See, author of The Handyman

“A visually beautiful book, original and intriguing. Otto masterfully explores the complexities of human nature.”
—Gail Tsukiyama, author of The Samurai’s Garden
Praise for How to Make an American Quilt

“A radiant work of art . . . a compelling tale that is history-haunted and riddled with secrets.”
The Seattle Times

“Remarkable . . . an affirmation of the strength and power of individual lives and the way they cannot help fitting together.”—The New York Times

“Fascinating . . . highly original . . . intelligent . . . beautiful individual stories stitched into a profoundly moving whole.” —Los Angeles Times

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