At The Water’s Edge stars a trio of spoiled Philadelphians who decide to go photograph the Loch Ness monster near the end of the Second World War, bringing with them a breaking-down marriage and very little money as they have been cut off from the family fortune after one too many escapade. Their haughty and oblivious behaviors do not endear them to the locals, but as the two men leave the woman to wait for them at the inn, she mysteriously acquires half a brain, realizes that she is acting as a twit, and even manages to contribute a bit to the world. A love story ensues, of course, in which she is forever rescued from her weaknesses by the stoic, taciturn local. Cliches abound. I did not like.
Category Archives: New fiction
The hero and narrator of Standard Deviation is the mildly confused husband of a pure extrovert, once married to a very contained professional woman, and parent of a middle-schooler with Asperger’s. The novel tells of the family’s adventures as the bubbly mother invites various friends and strangers to be their guests for lengthy stays, gets her son into a mysterious origami club, befriends the ex-wife, and has various marriage-damaging adventures. All the while, the husband observes, and worries (and cooks!). There are some hilarious passages, including a stay at an origami convention and various private school charity functions, but the general tone is more subdued and focused on how surprising spouses can appear to each other, years into a marriage.
What if we were somehow taxed on our happiness? The hero of The Invoice, a Kafkaesque novel, receives a large bill from a mysterious organization because, well, he has led a very happy life — not a showy life, certainly not a rich life, but one that has been remarkably content. He tries to find out more about the bill, of course, and ends up tangled into infinite bureaucracy, although he manages to fall in love with one of the handlers (and she with him!) Unlike a Kafka novel, there is no undue angst or doom. After all, the hero is endlessly content. An interesting look at what is success and how we measure it.
Swimming Lessons is the story of a woman who unwisely marries her much older college professor, dooming herself to a life of subservience and betrayal. The story is told, very cleverly, through short notes hidden by her in the many books of her husband’s before she mysteriously disappeared many years ago. (The contemporary story, of her daughters coming back home to look after their aging father, holds little mystery or interest and is centered on a classic conflict between elder and younger daughter.)
I found the book to be immensely depressing. Do we need another novel about sweet young things being seduced into marrying older, callous men? You may have a tougher constitution than I have.
New People goes on (and on) about the doubts and second thoughts of a young woman about to be married to her college boyfriend. She seems to have everything going for her — except that she just cannot be sure he is the right persona and pursues, crazily, a poet she barely knows, in secret of her boyfriend of course. There are some funny moment, especially when she is mistaken for the babysitter of the poet’s neighbor, but only a handful. If you like to read about the (puny) inner life of a confused young New Yorker, this is the book for you.
Not for me.
The heroine of Final Demand is enjoyably wicked (again!) and spends the first half of the book embezzling away and deceiving her naively sweet husband, all wonderful comedy for the reader. When her shenanigans create real tragedy for real people, the author switches to a moralizing tale that is much less entertaining and not entirely believable. I loved the first half, though…
The Summer Before The War is packaged as a vintage novel, with the local gentry in a small town controlling much of the institutions and everyone else barely getting by. But it is, in fact, a modern novel with a feminist twist, embodied in a brainy Latin teacher and her protector, an influential older woman who is working behind the scenes to open opportunities to women. Despite the sometimes awkward juxtaposition of the traditional style of the novel and the dogged feminist themes, it’s an engrossing story with some wonderful scenes, most starring the mayor and especially his ambitious and terminally conventional wife. Enjoy!
(Also read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by the same author.)