Ms. Prendergast blows away that sentimental mist with her tenacious research and humorous asides ... As someone who has spent a lot of time in the same university archives where Ms. Prendergast tracked down her characters’ lives, I found her sections on the frustrations and occasional joys of research to be a welcome break from descriptions of dangerous abortions, abusive relationships and men behaving badly. For readers not in love with archival research, these interludes may be a bit jarring, as the author toggles between scenes in early-20th-century San Francisco and her experiences at U.C. Berkeley’s Bancroft Library 100 years later. Similarly, her embrace of bias and uncertainty—an issue many narrative nonfiction writers dance around for fear of undermining their authority—are welcome ... a book that grapples with the difficult task of retrieving women’s lives from incomplete or distorted archival records. As for any romantic notions that readers may hold of what California Bohemia was like in the early 20th century, Ms. Prendergast’s book will blow them away.
Life in Carmel among its bohemian artists is a captivating subject, but Prendergast deepens it by entering the narrative to relay the difficulties she encountered researching Carrie and Nora, two fascinating women whose lives were largely buried in archives devoted to the men in their circle. At times awash in shifting details, ultimately Prendergast’s vivid history offers a sobering take on a romanticized time and place in which the men were lauded while the women were nearly erased.
... thoroughly researched ... Interspersed with excerpts of French’s poems, Prendergast gives readers an inside look at what went on behind the writing ... This well-organized biography reads almost like historical fiction; readers are reminded that this is a true story when Prendergast inserts her witty intellectual commentary.