'How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare that after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.' No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest of some amusement. — from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
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July 27, 2013

Fin & Lady




      'Now, Fin,' she said, a hand on each shoulder, surveying him, 'this has been a tragedy of monstrous proportions.'
      Monstrous proportions. Fin remembered how much he loved the way Lady spoke. Sometimes she sounded like the ladies in slinky dresses in old movies on TV. Sometimes she sounded like a cowboy. Monstrous proportions. It was a tragedy; it was monstrous, a monster so big he would never get past it.
      'So. Of course you'll want a nice bath and then a nap.'
      'No thank you.' He looked down at the worn boards of the porch. They needed paint. He had helped his grandfather paint them just two years ago, holding the brushes mostly, cleaning them with turpentine and a rag.
      'No? Really? That's what I do, you know, when tragedy strikes. A nice stiff drink, a soak in the tub, a nap...'
      A stiff drink. That's a good one, Fin thought.
      'I'm eleven,' he said.
      'Ah,' she said. 'Too old for a nap, too young for a drink. Is that what you're saying?'
The Sixties aren't really my thing, so if someone other than Cathleen Schine had written Fin & Lady, I'm not sure I would have put it on my reading list. But I've read all her other novels, and liked them very much, and this book has the same gentle humor and the same slightly displaced, slightly odd characters that I always end up wanting to spend time with.

When the book opens, Fin is a young boy, living on his grandparents' small farm in eastern Connecticut. As a small child, Fin discovers that he has an older half-sister (he thinks of her as a pleated skirt, two legs, white socks, and black patent leather shoes). He knows that she is beautiful, and a little wild. When she runs away from her wedding, he even travels with his parents to Paris, then Rome, then Capri to bring her home. Lady calls him Finino, and gives him sips of cappuccino on a spoon; five or six years later, when Fin's parents have both died, she takes him to live with her in Greenwich Village.

Lady decides that she must be married within a year, before she turns 25, and enlists Fin to help her find a husband. For much of the book, her three 'suitors' -- a romantic, artistic refugee from the Balkans; the self-important lawyer she left at the altar; and a younger, handsome, jock --  drift in and out, until Fin and Lady spend a summer on Capri, Lady takes up photography, Fin falls in love for the first time, and ...

There's a little device in this book that I liked very much. It's written in the third person, but then slowly, once in a while, you come to realize that the narrator is there, too; that he or she has heard the story from Fin and is looking back, with him, from the present, at everything that has happened.  I found myself wondering, not too desperately, who this narrator was, and then finding out, and then seeing the end of the book unfold, just about perfectly.

2 comments:

JoAnn said...

I really enjoyed The Three Weissmanns of Westport - characters, setting, writing, and connection to Jane Austen -and have every intention of reading this book, too. So glad it has earned your stamp of approval!

PS It was reviewed in the NYTimes today.

Vintage Reading said...

I wasn't crazy about the The Three Weissmen's of Westport, but I would read Schine again. I'll add this to tbr list.

Thank you for visiting!

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