Just in time for Valentine’s Day – these books both deal with women in their forties and fifties seemingly falling in love with horribly unsuitable (younger) men.
The Music Lesson by Katharine Weber
When forty-something librarian Patricia Dolan meets a distant Irish cousin, Mickey, she immediately falls in love with his youth, confidence and beauty. Their steamy, intense relationship takes a sinister turn when Mickey recruits Patricia, who has an art education and works at the Frick Museum, to help him steal a famous Dutch painting that belongs to the British queen. The novel is a diary of Patricia’s experiences as she waits for Mickey in an isolated Irish cottage with the purloined painting hidden in an upstairs cupboard. The pacing is as slow as life in an Irish village, which leaves plenty of time for Patricia to write about her life before Mickey, her feelings about their relationship and her reflections on art. The story has a melancholy tone and is laden with an air of defeat. Patricia is somewhat of a wet blanket character, but the friends she makes in Ireland are colorful and eccentric enough to keep readers engaged right up to the shocking, unexpected betrayal that ends the tale. I read this soon after finishing The Goldfinch and enjoyed its similar themes and subject matter.
The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine
My book group discussed this novel at our January meeting. When Betty Weissmann’s husband leaves her for a younger colleague she moves with her two middle-aged daughters, Annie and Miranda, to a shabby house in Westport, CT that is generously provided by her extravagant Cousin Lou. Annie and Miranda have also run smack dab into financial, professional and personal setbacks so this decision to live together seems to solve many of their problems, though their temperaments severely conflict. As Betty prepares her divorce case (and becomes a Costco addict) and Annie tries to keep them financially afloat, Miranda falls crazy in love with a young actor named Kit who has a three-year-old son. This very funny book trots along at a brisk clip while the family struggles to find their footing in their strange, new (insolvent) existence. The characters are fully and charmingly drawn, though somewhat absurd, a trait I think Schine enjoys exposing. Resembling Barbara Pym’s work, the novel is a true social comedy on the surface, yet has an earnest and sad undertone. It is based rather loosely on Sense & Sensibility and my book group had fun discussing the similarities and differences in the two plots and appreciated the way Schine turns Austen’s ending on its head.
Do you have any favorite stories of love gone wrong?
I was going to write a post yesterday on my best books of 2013, but the company who hosts my blog had a server outage and I couldn’t access my blog for the majority of the day and then…I became obsessed with a knitting project. So, in lieu of doing a best books list this year I’ll share six books, three classics and three contemporary titles, that provided me with a superior reading experience in 2013 and that I highly recommend to you.
The classics: Angel by Elizabeth Taylor, The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford and Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.
“Fin’s funeral suit was a year old, worn three times, already too small”.
I knew I wanted to read this book when I saw that it takes place in the mid-sixties, one of my favorite time periods. I love the music, the fashion, the films and the changing social and cultural norms. Fin & Lady opens in 1964 with the death of Fin Hadley’s mother. As his father has already died, he is left in the care of his 24-year-old sister, Lady. She sweeps him away from his Connecticut farm to her home in Greenwich Village where the bohemian, beautiful and fickle Lady raises him in a most unconventional manner (he goes to a progressive school that doesn’t teach math, etc). She enlists Fin to help her find a husband by the time she turns 25 and collects a trio of suitors who endure when everyone else falls away. But Lady doesn’t love any of them and searches in vain for the right man to marry her.
The problem lies with Lady’s obsession with freedom. She doesn’t like anyone or anything to restrain her lifestyle and has a habit of ruthlessly disentangling herself from emotional attachment. It makes her relationship with Fin a challenge and causes him to constantly question Lady’s commitment to raising him. As the years pass they broker a stormy yet mutual adoration until Lady’s 28th birthday. That’s the day that Lady disappears and the day their lives change forever.
Fin & Lady is such a joyous and funny book. I constantly chuckled and grinned over the clever dialogue and the banter. Fin is a great character – very precocious, curious and a huge reader. He is practical minded, but adapts to Lady’s erratic lifestyle and thrives in the chaos. Lady is also a wonderful character. She is one of the ‘beautiful people’ yet a free spirit and true sixties creation. Her unpredictability can be maddening but she has enough charm and wisdom to temper the crazy.
Most of the book is set in Greenwich Village and it is energetic and quirky – it must have been quite amazing in the sixties. Another chunk of the novel takes place in Capri and it is a lovely contrast. Peaceful, sunny and magical – Lady loves it and Schine makes the reader fall in love with it too.
The novel is narrated by an unknown ‘me’ and part of the enchantment of the book is finding out who the narrator is – and it is a bittersweet discovery.
The more I think about Fin & Lady, the more fond of it I am. It really is sweet and fun and sophisticated and beautiful. Vibrant characters, fascinating setting and lots of humor – perfection.