A line from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, ”To a Lost Love,” provides the title for Elisabeth Stevens’ elegiac, provocative, and sexy new novel of the 1950’s. “A Green Isle in the Sea, Love” returns to that calm, politically and sexually conservative era of Post World War II optimism before the angry years of racial violence and feminist protest that followed. Stevens, whose sensual and plain-spoken collection of love poems, “Sirens’ Songs,” was named one of the 100 best indie books of 2011 by Kirkus, depicts Amy, a naive, 22-year-old heroine who comes to New York City from a small upstate town to prove that she can be a great painter.
Amy paints, but she also falls in love with Charlie, a conventional businessman who believes in ‘progress.’ Soon, she sees that the successful artists in the city are men, and that unmarried women such Charlie’s long-widowed mother, who runs the family insurance agency, or her recently-widowed mother, who wants Amy to come home, have unfulfilled lives. Even Duncan, Charlie’s brilliant, free-living half-brother, a world traveler, risks disappointment when he falls in love with Blanche, ‘the most beautiful girl in New York.’
In a troubling world which in some ways resembles that of Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar,” Amy resists mounting depression and confusion and Charlie’s pressure to ‘do the right thing’ and get married. She instead keeps working on a strange, unstylish painting of a chimera, which she can’t seem to finish.