Review: The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder

Review: The Throwback Special by Chris BachelderThe Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction
Pages: 213
Published by W. W. Norton & Company on March 14th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Finalist for the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction
A slyly profound and startlingly original novel about the psyche of the American male, The Throwback Special marks the return of one of the most acclaimed literary voices of his generation.
Here is the absorbing story of twenty-two men who gather every fall to painstakingly reenact what ESPN called “the most shocking play in NFL history” and the Washington Redskins dubbed the “Throwback Special”: the November 1985 play in which the Redskins’ Joe Theismann had his leg horribly broken by Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants live on Monday Night Football.
With wit and great empathy, Chris Bachelder introduces us to Charles, a psychologist whose expertise is in high demand; George, a garrulous public librarian; Fat Michael, envied and despised by the others for being exquisitely fit; Jeff, a recently divorced man who has become a theorist of marriage; and many more. Over the course of a weekend, the men reveal their secret hopes, fears, and passions as they choose roles, spend a long night of the soul preparing for the play, and finally enact their bizarre ritual for what may be the last time. Along the way, mishaps, misunderstandings, and grievances pile up, and the comforting traditions holding the group together threaten to give way.
The Throwback Special is a moving and comic tale filled with pitch-perfect observations about manhood, marriage, middle age, and the rituals we all enact as part of being alive.

My Review:

To paraphrase Thoreau, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and die with their song still inside them.”

This is the story of a group of 22 middle-aged men who get together, once a year, to re-enact a single, disastrous football play, and let that song out, just for a brief moment of their lives.

The idea behind this story almost seems a bit absurd. This group of men has created a fairly elaborate ritual where they spend a weekend together in a very middling hotel and replay one memorable football scrimmage from 1985. The night that quarterback Joe Theismann of the Washington Redskins suffered a career-ending compound fracture while being sacked by New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor. In the replays, you can hear the bones snap, and it’s still enough to make you sick to your stomach.

And this bunch of guys replays that tape over and over, so that they can get their parts just right for their actual replay on the field.

It’s a gathering of men who otherwise would have nothing in common. We don’t know how they originally came together, or why. All we know is that this is their one moment, every year, to be someone else, and to experience a little piece of the world through someone else’s eyes playing someone else’s part.

And through the rituals of the weekend, they reconnect with each other, and with themselves.

Escape Rating B: I found this book quietly interesting, but I’m not the intended audience. Although the friend who recommended it certainly is. I do remember that play, it was during a period of my life when I used to regularly watch football. I don’t anymore, and for the reasons why, take a look at my review of Monsters. I just can’t get past the cost.

The Throwback Special is, as I said, a very quiet story. We don’t know how these men originally got together. We also don’t see any more of their regular lives than they choose to reveal to each other over the course of the weekend.

What we do see, and what is fascinating, is the way that they each interpret and reinterpret every single event and every word that is said to them, or that they say to one another. Every moment is evaluated and reevaluated for threats, implications, and inevitably misunderstandings. Every man seems to be worried every second about how they perceive and are perceived by the others. Every interaction is analyzed for its possibilities of one-upsmanship and being set one-down in response. No matter how successful and in control any of them appear to be, the reality is that they are all insecure and uncertain every minute.

And they hide all their humanity behind a borrowed uniform and a worn helmet, while letting just a tiny bit out.

As a woman, I don’t know whether this portrayal of the men’s thoughts and fears is real or imaginary. But if there is a partial reality hidden there, it makes me sad. And it does what literary fiction is supposed to do. It makes me think.

Review: The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick

Review: The Comet Seekers by Helen SedgwickThe Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction
Pages: 304
Published by Harper on October 11th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A magical, intoxicating debut novel, both intimate and epic, that intertwines the past, present, and future of two lovers bound by the passing of great comets overhead and a coterie of remarkable ancestors
Róisín and François are immediately drawn to each other when they meet at a remote research base on the frozen ice sheets of Antarctica. At first glance, the pair could not be more different. Older by a few years, Róisín, a daughter of Ireland and a peripatetic astronomer, joins the science team to observe the fracturing of a comet overhead. François, the base’s chef, has just left his birthplace in Bayeux, France, for only the second time in his life. Yet devastating tragedy and the longing for a fresh start, which they share, as well as an indelible yet unknown bond that stretches back centuries, connect them to each other.
Helen Sedgwick carefully unfolds their surprisingly intertwined paths, moving forward and back through time to reveal how these lovers’ destinies have long been tied to one other by the skies—the arrival of comets great and small. In telling Róisín and François’s story, Sedgwick illuminates the lives of their ancestors, showing how strangers can be connected and ghosts can be real, and how the way we choose to see the world can be as desolate or as beautiful as the comets themselves.
A beautiful, skillfully crafted, and emotionally perceptive novel that explores the choices we make, the connections we miss, and the ties that inextricably join our fates, The Comet Seekers reflects how the shifting cosmos unites us all through life, beyond death, and across the whole of time.

My Review:

This feels like an easy book to like but a hard book to love. Your mileage, even to Antarctica and back, may vary.

I want to say this is a story about two people who feel connected to comets, and through that somewhat ephemeral connection find themselves connected to each other. At first their connection seems to be an accident, but in the end we discover that some gravitic force has been moving them towards each other all along.

Róisín is an Irish astrophysicist. She has been following comets since she was a child, and wants nothing more than the chance to study them. But Róisín is from a tiny Irish village, and while her family understands her need to see the universe, her first love does not. Every part of her journey away seems to encompass just a bit pain, a worry about what might have been if she and her cousin Liam had ever had a real chance.

Ironically, or coincidentally, or a bit of both, Róisín’s journey around the world, the journey that eventually leads her to Antarctica, keeps intersecting with François’ journey. Francois is younger than Róisín, but as she travels and explores the world and her profession, she keeps almost bumping into Francois and his mother Severine.

Not just when François and Severine make their one great trip, to Edinburgh, but also when Róisín finds herself working on a grant project in Bayeux, the home of the famous tapesty and the place that Severine and François call home.

Much of the story is Severine’s. She finds herself tied to Bayeux by the family ghosts. Down the centuries, from Aelfgifu in the 11th century who worked both herself and Halley’s Comet into the tapestry, all the way to the 21st century and Severine’s own grandmother, members of Severine’s family appear to Severine as rather lively ghosts whenever there is a comet in the sky over Earth. Severine loves her family, both the dead as well as the living, and can’t bear to part from the ghosts. But there is a price to be paid for keeping them close beside her – she has to stay close to them as well. If she leaves Bayeux, she loses her family.

BayeuxTapestryScene15
Where a cleric and Aelfgyva…
BayeuxTapestryScene32
These people marvel at the star
Of course, her son Francois thinks she’s lost her marbles, just as Severine’s mother thought had happened to HER mother. Severine’s mother was astonished to find herself a member of the family ghostly choir upon her own death!

The story begins on a scientific expedition in Antarctica, where Róisín is studying the heavens and chef François is keeping everyone fed. They are both there to get away from, or let go of, losses that they can’t bear around other people. And as their story progresses, we see the stories of all of the comets, and all of the members of François’ family who have been tied to their own particular comets.

Because the ghosts are telling their stories, one last time before they go.

Escape Rating B: I enjoyed the individual stories, but they just didn’t quite hang together into a single anything for me. This may explain why I often don’t quite get literary fiction – I keep expecting a plot there isn’t there.

The through story line is how Róisín and François reached the place where they can finally see each other. Not just because he had to grow up first, but because they each needed to experience their own profound losses before they were ready for a possible future together.

But we only glimpse their stories in bits and pieces. Most of the book feels like it is taken up with the visitations of the ghosts, and the different times that each of them experienced a comet passing through the sky. And all of the stories seem to have a tragedy in their hearts, whether it is the death of young Antoine, Severine’s uncle, or the tragic lives of Aelfgifu in the 11th century and Brigitte in the 15th.

We also only see Róisín and François’ lives through the tail of a comet – the narrative is not sustained through their lives. Instead we get glimpses through the 20th and 21st centuries as one comet after another makes its way into, or through, our solar system. So not just Halley’s Comet in 1986, but also Hale-Bopp, Shoemaker-Levy 9 and Hyakutake. It’s been a busy half-century for comets, which provides lots of points to observe their lives – but still not the same as a more straightforward story.

The historical vignettes are not in chronological order either, making it easy for the reader to get a bit lost among the stars. And comets.

Individual sections are often lyrical, but somehow the book just misses cohering into a whole. I’m flailing a bit, trying to convey that this book didn’t quite do it for me. It got close a few times, but just missed.

The Comet Seekers is a debut novel. Those lyrical parts of this story are lovely, and I have hopes for this author’s future work.

Review: Beauty and Attention by Liz Rosenberg + Giveaway

Review: Beauty and Attention by Liz Rosenberg + GiveawayBeauty and Attention: A Novel by Liz Rosenberg
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, literary fiction
Pages: 211
Published by Lake Union Publishing on October 25th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
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The riveting story of one brave young woman’s struggle to free herself from a web of deceit.
For misfit Libby Archer, social expectations for young women in Rochester, New York, in the mid-1950s don’t work. Her father has died, leaving her without parents, and her well-meaning friends are pressuring her to do what any sensible single girl must do: marry a passionate, persistent hometown suitor with a promising future. Yet Libby boldly defies conventional wisdom and plans to delay marriage—to anyone—by departing for her uncle’s Belfast estate. In Ireland, Libby seeks not only the comfort of family but also greater opportunities than seem possible during the stifling McCarthy era at home.
Across the Atlantic, Libby finds common ground with her brilliant, invalid cousin, Lazarus, then puts her trust in a sophisticated older woman who seems to be everything she hopes to become. Fraught with betrayal and long-kept secrets, as well as sudden wealth and unexpected love, Libby’s journey toward independence takes turns she never could have predicted—and calls on courage and strength she never knew she had.

My Review:

This is a difficult book to review. I finished it last night, and now that I’m done, I’m not exactly sure what happened. And that feels weird.

The story takes place in the mid-1950s, at a time when women were supposed to marry young and become model wives and mothers. While a tiny number of careers were open to women – teacher, nurse and secretary – the ambition was to become a stay-at-home wife and mother.

I’m so glad I wasn’t an adult then, because, well, that is so not anything I would have wanted.

And it isn’t what Libby Archer wants, either. Not that she is actually sure what she does want in her early 20s, but that just makes her normal in our 21st century eyes. It does give her contemporaries a great deal of pause, however.

The man who loves her is just certain that she should marry him, right now. And he places way too much pressure on someone who finally has a chance to spread her wings, so she runs.

Libby’s alcoholic father has just died. And after years of tip-toeing around his cold withdrawals and drunken rages, after years of suppressing her every desire and ambition to care for him in his decline (as good daughters were supposed to do) she wants to discover who she really is before she becomes a part of somebody else.

So she goes to Ireland to visit her aunt and uncle and cousin. These are people that she remembers fondly from her childhood, before her mother died and her father started drinking himself to death. Uncle Sacks is her mother’s brother, and it was easy for her dad to drop the connection.

Libby picks it back up again. She finds a second home with her aunt and uncle, and a fast friend in her dying cousin, ironically named Lazarus. Whatever is killing Lazarus, which is real but ill-defined, he will not be rising from the dead.

She finds strength as part of their rather eclectic household, but she is still drifting inside herself. When her uncle dies, the household scatters to the winds, and Libby finds herself drifting again, but this time, drifting into all the bad decisions that her friends back home warned her about.

It is only at the side of her cousin’s deathbed that she begins to pick up the reins of her own life. Where those reins lead her is left to the reader’s imagination at the end of the book.

Escape Rating B-: I liked the first part of the story very much. Libby is a bit lost and uncertain, and so she should be. She’s free of her father’s domination, and feels both exhilarated and guilty at the same time. After years of being forced to deal with her father’s “illness” she wants the freedom to explore herself, and everyone else’s very forceful good intentions just feel like an attempt to put her in a different cage.

Only because they are.

Libby’s life in her uncle’s house, and the story of her deep friendship with Lazarus, are bittersweet. It is a safe harbor that is doomed to end, but still surprises Libby when that end comes.

One of the fascinating things about Libby is that she is so much of a blank slate. She is bright, naive and innocent and has a desperate need to please. Several men fall in love with her, not necessarily for who she actually is, but what they think they can make of her.

And she is easily manipulated and led. Which is what happens. Someone she thinks is a friend seems to maneuver her into the terrible marriage that everyone back home feared for her. But one of the faults of the book as that we don’t see it happen. One page, she’s just meeting the future Mr. Awful for the first time. The next page, she’s married and obviously miserable. That missing link took the heart out of the story for this reader.

In the end, the reader is left with the impression that Libby has finally seized her life in her own hands, but there are fits and starts even to that. Her independence is not assured, merely seems to be in the offing. And the equivocation of the ending left this reader a bit bereft.

I hope that Libby finally rescued herself. But I wish I knew.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a copy of Beauty and Attention to one lucky US/Canada commenter.

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Review: The Buried Book by D.M. Pulley + Giveaway

Review: The Buried Book by D.M. Pulley + GiveawayThe Buried Book by D.M. Pulley
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, literary fiction, mystery
Pages: 399
Published by Lake Union Publishing on August 23rd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble
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When Althea Leary abandons her nine-year-old son, Jasper, he’s left on his uncle’s farm with nothing but a change of clothes and a Bible.
It’s 1952, and Jasper isn’t allowed to ask questions or make a fuss. He’s lucky to even have a home and must keep his mouth shut and his ears open to stay in his uncle’s good graces. No one knows where his mother went or whether she’s coming back. Desperate to see her again, he must take matters into his own hands. From the farm, he embarks on a treacherous search that will take him to the squalid hideaways of Detroit and back again, through tawdry taverns, peep shows, and gambling houses.
As he’s drawn deeper into an adult world of corruption, scandal, and murder, Jasper uncovers the shocking past still chasing his mother—and now it’s chasing him too.

My Review:

The Buried Book is a chilling story about the loss of innocence and the end of childhood, told by a narrator who is unreliable for all the right reasons, but who just keeps trying to understand.

Jasper Leary is 9 years old. He feels abandoned when his somewhat mercurial mother takes him to her brother’s farm in rural Michigan, and leaves him there for an indefinite future. It is 1952 and all Jasper can see is that his mother doesn’t want him and his father doesn’t care enough to know where he is.

And living on the farm isn’t half as much fun for real as it is for vacation.

Everyone is trying to protect poor little Jasper. This isn’t the first time his mother has run off, but this is the first time she’s left him so far from home. And Jasper’s picture is probably the one in the dictionary next to the saying about “little pitchers” and “big ears”. No one tells Jasper exactly what’s going on with his mother, but he hears plenty – and all of it bad.

When he finds his mother’s childhood diary hidden away in the burned wreck of her parents’ old house, Jasper finds himself seeing into the thoughts and feelings of his mother when she was a 15-year-old girl – and discovers that there was plenty of bad stuff swimming below the surface of this sleepy little farming community back then – and fears that some of it might still be chasing his mother all these years later.

We follow Jasper as he tries to piece together a picture of what happened to his mother, then and now. There is so much that he tries to understand about the world around him, and he so often fails.

Not because he’s not intelligent, but because he has so little to go on. Everyone is trying to protect him from what they perceive as the inevitable awful truth. As far as most people are concerned, his mother is just a bad seed who probably came to her rightfully bad end. And he is, after all, just 9 years old, and he doesn’t yet understand all the terrible ways that the world works.

But she is Jasper’s mother. And he can’t give up, no matter how much trouble he gets himself into. He keeps pursuing that elusive truth, no matter how much the adults, both good and bad, try to keep him from pursuing his missing mother.

Jasper takes a journey through dark places that he is too young to understand. But he keeps going anyway. And in the end, learns that there are some things he would be better off not knowing. But he’ll never be a child again.

Escape Rating A-: The Buried Book is a story that rewards the reader’s patience. The set up takes a long time, and Jasper’s necessarily limited understanding and rightfully childish point of view can make it difficult for adult readers to get inside his head. It’s not a comfortable fit.

But it is a rewarding one. At about halfway, the story suddenly takes off. Jasper has learned enough, or stumbled into enough, that whatever is chasing his mother is also chasing him. He’s afraid to trust any of the adults in his world. He has no way of knowing friend from foe, but he is rightfully certain that the adults mostly want to stop him. And even if it is supposedly for his own good, he can’t let go.

There’s a painful lesson in here about the darkness that lies beneath, and that people don’t want to see. The events of his mother’s adolescence are still with her in Jasper’s present. She wasn’t able to trust any of the adults in her life, either. But the way that they failed her, and continue to do so, is a big part of what destroyed her life, and may also consume Jasper’s.

The end of this story is utterly heartbreaking. Jasper learns a terrible lesson. It’s the one about being careful what you wish for, because you might get it. When the story ends, Jasper is 12, and his childhood is over.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a copy of The Buried Book by D.M. Pulley to one lucky US or Canadian commenter:

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Review: The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson

Review: The Summer Guest by Alison AndersonThe Summer Guest by Alison Anderson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, literary fiction
Pages: 400
Published by Harper on March 8th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Blinded by a fatal illness, young Ukrainian doctor Zinaida Lintvaryova is living on her family’s rural estate in the summer of 1888. When a family from Moscow rents a cottage on the grounds, Zinaida develops a deep bond with one of their sons, a doctor and writer of modest but growing fame called Anton Pavlovich Chekhov. Intelligent, curious, and increasingly introspective as her condition worsens, Zinaida keeps a diary chronicling this extraordinary friendship that comes to define the last years of her life.
In the winter of 2014, Katya Kendall’s London publishing house is floundering-as is her marriage. Katya is convinced that salvation lies in publishing Zinaida’s diary, and she approaches translator Ana Harding about the job. As Ana reads the diary, she is captivated by the voice of the dying young doctor. And hidden within Zinaida’s words, Ana discovers tantalizing clues suggesting that Chekhov—who was known to have composed only plays and short stories—actually wrote a novel during his summers with Zinaida that was subsequently lost. Ana is determined to find Chekhov’s “lost” manuscript, but in her search she discovers it is but one of several mysteries involving Zinaida’s diary.
Inspired by fragments of historical truth, The Summer Guest is a transportive, masterfully written novel about an unusual, fascinating friendship that transcends the limits of its time and place. It’s also a contemporary story about two compelling, women, both of whom find solace in Zinaida and Chekhov as they contemplate all that’s missing in their own lives.

My Review:

“She had dared to believe in the truth of the imagination.” But the question that echoes after the book is done is whose imagination? And even more tellingly, whose truth?

This is a story of three women, spread across two eras and three countries, and the commonality they find, or are found to have, over their love of the work of Anton Chekhov.

In 1888, Chekhov and his family spend that summer, and the following summer as summer guests of the Lintvaryov family in Luka, in what is now Ukraine. At that point in his life, he was known but not yet famous, and still making his reputation. But his writings, rather than his medical practice, were the economic support of his family. His parents, his sisters and his brothers. Their support was both a joy and somewhat of a distracting burden.

They took him, or he took them, to Luka, so that he could write and relax. Or the other way around.

He became friends with the oldest daughter of the Lintvaryov house, a doctor like himself, But Zinaida Mikhailovna was no longer practicing medicine. She had been struck down by illness, most likely a brain tumor. In 1888 she was already blind, and her world was closing in.

To keep the internal darkness at bay, Zinaida kept a diary, by writing in a special box designed to keep her lines apart and legible. In 2014, Katya Kendall sends Zinaida’s diary, in the original Russian, to translator Ana Harding.

Katya’s small publishing company, a joint effort between herself and her somewhat distant husband Peter, is failing. Their business of publishing translations of Russian and Eastern European works has never recovered from the recession of 2008, especially as it was followed by so much political unrest in the countries that were their biggest customers.

Katya and Peter hope that the publication of Zinaida’s diary, illuminating as it does a documented but little known piece of Chekhov’s life, will allow them to recover their fortunes. Ana, captivated with the voice of the woman in the diary she has received, hopes that the publication of her translation will make her reputation, and in a way, justify the choices she has made in her life.

But Zinaida takes her under her spell, bringing those long-lost summers to life. In Zinaida’s words, Ana finds truths that captivate her to the point of visiting Luka herself, now in a brief calm between wars, in order to find the truth of the most surprising revelation of the diary – that Chekhov, the master of the play and the short story, left behind one novel, entrusted to the care of his dying friend.

Or did he?

Escape Rating B: The Summer Guest is a story of fiction as the lie that tells the truth. Ana and Katya both find themselves enraptured by Zinaida’s writing across the years, although in much different ways and for completely different reasons.

They both find the long-ago diarist a kindred spirit – a woman who still reached out to the world, even as her own was closing in. As both Katya’s and Ana’s lives seem to be, although not in the same way.

In the end, it is Zinaida’s voice that shines most clearly in the story, in spite of the way that it comes to be. And it is Ana’s search for meaning and purpose that provides the resolution at the end. Even though the diary turned out to be a lie, it still told Ana a truth that she needed to see.

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Review: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Review: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth StroutMy Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Format: hardcover
Source: publisher
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: literary fiction
Pages: 193
Published by Random House on January 12th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A new book by Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout is cause for celebration. Her bestselling novels, including Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys, have illuminated our most tender relationships. Now, in My Name Is Lucy Barton, this extraordinary writer shows how a simple hospital visit becomes a portal to the most tender relationship of all—the one between mother and daughter.   Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.

My Review:

My Name is Lucy Barton is literary fiction. Which means that not much happens. So fair warning, this is going to be one of those reviews where I end up talking a lot about how the book made me feel, rather than what the book was about.

Because I’m not quite sure what this book was about, at least in the sense of what the plot might have been. Or even if there is one.

Instead, this is a novel about relationships. And it is also very much a story about secrets, especially the ones where the need for secrecy becomes so ingrained, that we no longer even tell them to ourselves.

The ostensible story is about Lucy’s unexpected extended hospital stay, but it is clearly told from a point much later in her life. And as her thoughts roam over the whole of her life, she hints at memories from her childhood and adolescence.

It’s clear that there was a lot wrong in the Barton household while Lucy was growing up. The family was poverty-stricken, but that wasn’t either the real or the whole of the problem. Sparked by an extremely unexpected visit from the mother she hasn’t seen for years, in the quiet of her own mind Lucy hints at the things that went wrong. But she never speaks of them, not even to herself, at least not in detail.

There’s a monster lurking somewhere in that dim past, but the habit of never revealing that truth, whatever it was, is so ingrained that Lucy doesn’t even let herself think it. Consequently, the reader never does know precisely what happened.

What we do know is that those long ago troubles shaped Lucy’s life, and that her mother’s inability to even touch on those difficulties is part of their estrangement. At the same time, Lucy longs for real connection with her mother. And even though she is terribly grateful that her mother is there for those long, uncertain days in the hospital, Lucy still doesn’t get what she needs.

Escape Rating B-: I finished this, I found it interesting enough to keep turning back to over and over throughout the day, but in the end, it didn’t move me. There was no catharsis, no true ending.

Throughout the story, Lucy hints at terrible secrets, but she never reveals them, even to herself. As a reader, I felt let down at the end. I expected a resolution, or at least a reveal, that never came.

At the same time, part of what kept me coming back was the tenuous relationship between Lucy and her mother, which had some uncomfortable parallels to my own relationship with my mother. And maybe that was the point of the whole story. Not that Lucy tells us what happened to her, but that it makes the reader reach for the resonances in their own story. It’s not what the story gives us, but what we bring to it.

And that’s an uncomfortable thought.

Review: Reader I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre edited by Tracy Chevalier

Review: Reader I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre edited by Tracy ChevalierReader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre by Tracy Chevalier, Joanna Briscoe, Susan Hill, Elizabeth McCracken, Nadifa Mohamed, Audrey Niffenegger, Patricia Park, Francine Prose, Namwali Serpell, Elif Shafak, Lionel Shriver, Salley Vickers, Emma Donoghue, Evie Wyld, Helen Dunmore, Esther Freud, Jane Gardam, Linda Grant, Kirsty Gunn, Tessa Hadley, Sarah Hall
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, library binding, audiobook
Genres: anthologies, historical fiction, literary fiction
Pages: 304
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on March 22nd 2016
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This collection of original stories by today’s finest women writers—including Tracy Chevalier, Francine Prose, Elizabeth McCracken, Tessa Hadley, Audrey Niffenegger, and more—takes inspiration from the opening line in Charlotte Brontë’s most beloved novel, Jane Eyre.
A fixture in the literary canon, Charlotte Brontë is revered by readers all over the world. Her novels featuring unforgettable, strong heroines still resonate with millions today. And who could forget one of literature’s best-known lines: “Reader, I married him” from her classic novel Jane Eyre?
Part of a remarkable family that produced three acclaimed female writers at a time in 19th-century Britain when few women wrote, and fewer were published, Brontë has become a great source of inspiration to writers, especially women, ever since. Now in Reader, I Married Him, twenty of today’s most celebrated women authors have spun original stories, using the opening line from Jane Eyre as a springboard for their own flights of imagination.
Reader, I Married Him will feature stories by:
Tracy Chevalier
Tessa Hadley
Sarah Hall
Helen Dunmore
Kirsty Gunn
Joanna Briscoe
Jane Gardam
Emma Donoghue
Susan Hill
Francine Prose
Elif Shafak
Evie Wyld
Patricia Park
Salley Vickers
Nadifa Mohamed
Esther Freud
Linda Grant
Lionel Shriver
Audrey Niffenegger
Namwali Serpell
Elizabeth McCracken
Unique, inventive, and poignant, the stories in Reader, I Married Him pay homage to the literary genius of Charlotte Brontë, and demonstrate once again that her extraordinary vision continues to inspire readers and writers.

My Review:

jane eyre by charlotte bronteJust like it says on the label, this is a collection of short stories “inspired by” Jane Eyre. Before I get into the quality of the stories, I’d like to touch on that “inspired by” bit.

I’ll confess it has been a long time since I read Jane Eyre. And I’ll also say that it will probably be a long time, if ever, before I read it again. While it feels like a progenitor of the Gothic romance school, Jane’s situation as an impoverished governess, and her realistic lack of options just aren’t things that float my boat. I prefer situations where the hero and heroine at least approach equality, or get as close to it as seems remotely reasonable for the time period.

That being said, I approached this collection wondering how and where contemporary authors would take Jane and her story. The results feel mixed to me. Not just in the sense that any short story collection has winners and losers (and readers varying opinions on which are which) but also mixed in regards to their use of Jane Eyre as inspiration. There were stories that felt close to the original, and stories where the inspiration seemed tangential. Sometimes even tenuous.

Your mileage, of course, may vary.

But the stories in the collection that stick with me are the ones that hewed closely in some way to some aspect of the original story. The ones that seemed to use Jane as a looser starting point didn’t have the same impact for this reader. They felt like the didn’t fit within the collection unless one squints very hard and tilts one’s head to the proper degree sideways.

The title story by Susan Hill, is a case in point. While it takes off from the famous line, “Reader, I Married Him,” The “I” in this particular story is Wallis Warfield Simpson, and the “him” is Edward, Duke of Windsor, the man who was briefly King Edward VIII. The story felt sad, but then, their lives also felt sad, and possibly just as pointless as they are in this story. The story, while certainly interesting and providing a very different perspective on this famous couple, felt as if it had nothing to do with the theme at hand.

On the other hand, I loved Lionel Shriver’s “The Self-Seeding Sycamore”. Just as in the Susan Hill story, I’m not sure what, if anything it draws from Jane Eyre. On the other hand, I just really liked the story.

As far as those stories that have more a more obvious relationship to Jane Eyre, there were three that haunted me for different reasons, although they all have a slightly creepy factor.

Helen Dunmore gives an angry but resigned voice to one of the secondary characters in the story in “Grace Pool Her Testimony”. It allows us to view the story from a radically different point of view. It is also a “below stairs” story, where we see the doings of the household from the perspective of someone who was always present, but seemingly invisible. And the story provides insights into Rochester as a young man, and gives a surprising origin for little Adele. But it is Grace’s harsh and angry voice that sticks in the mind after the story is complete.

Salley Vickers tells us a story in Mr. Rochester’s voice in “Reader, She Married Me” but while the story is told from his perspective after the end of the novel, it is not the happily ever after one might expect. Instead, from Rochester’s point of view, blind and dependent on Jane as a result of his injuries from the fire, we see Jane quite differently. Instead of a triumphant heroine we see a manipulative woman who only married him because she now has the upper hand in their relationship, and that is what she has been scheming for all along. This isn’t a story about love, it’s a story about power.

Likewise, “The Mirror” by Francine Prose is also a story about power, but in this case all the power is in the hands of Rochester, although like the Vickers’ story The Mirror also takes place after the end of the novel. In this modern re-imagining, Jane and Rochester are in couples’ counseling after their marriage. As the years have gone by, Rochester has become increasingly insistent that his first wife died long before the fateful fire, and that Jane made up all of the incidents related in the story. And most telling of all, that it was a parrot that Jane heard in the attic. While Jane wants to save their marriage, Rochester is increasingly insistent that Jane is unbalanced, and both Jane and the reader see that he is setting her up to be put away in an attic somewhere, just like his first wife. As the net closes around her, Jane questions everything she thought she knew – both about the true condition of the first Mrs. Rochester and about Edward’s own sanity or the lack thereof.

The Mirror is the story that gave me the most chills. I found The Self-Seeding Sycamore to be the most fun. A few of the stories neither felt related to the theme, nor did anything for me as stories. But overall, the collection is interesting and certainly has a couple of bright spots – or brightly creepy spots, as the case may be.

Escape Rating B for the collection as a whole.

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Review: The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley + Giveaway

Review: The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley + GiveawayThe Ramblers: A Novel by Aidan Donnelley Rowley
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 400
Published by William Morrow on February 9th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For fans of J. Courtney Sullivan, Meg Wolitzer, Claire Messud, and Emma Straub, a gorgeous and absorbing novel of a trio of confused souls struggling to find themselves and the way forward in their lives, set against the spectacular backdrop of contemporary New York City.
Set in the most magical parts of Manhattan—the Upper West Side, Central Park, Greenwich Village—The Ramblers explores the lives of three lost souls, bound together by friendship and family. During the course of one fateful Thanksgiving week, a time when emotions run high and being with family can be a mixed blessing, Rowley’s sharply defined characters explore the moments when decisions are deliberately made, choices accepted, and pasts reconciled.
Clio Marsh, whose bird-watching walks through Central Park are mentioned in New York Magazine, is taking her first tentative steps towards a relationship while also looking back to the secrets of her broken childhood. Her best friend, Smith Anderson, the seemingly-perfect daughter of one of New York’s wealthiest families, organizes the lives of others as her own has fallen apart. And Tate Pennington has returned to the city, heartbroken but determined to move ahead with his artistic dreams.
Rambling through the emotional chaos of their lives, this trio learns to let go of the past, to make room for the future and the uncertainty and promise that it holds. The Ramblers is a love letter to New York City—an accomplished, sumptuous novel about fate, loss, hope, birds, friendship, love, the wonders of the natural world and the mysteries of the human spirit. 

My Review:

The Ramblers is a book that you really can judge by its cover. The cover picture is intended to represent the Ramble and Lake section section of New York City’s Central Park. And if it’s half this pretty, it looks like a marvelous place to lose an afternoon. Or two. And so is this book.

The Ramblers is the interconnected story of three slightly lost souls who are making their way in the city, and dealing with the lives and especially the baggage that they brought with them. It’s also a very pretty love letter to the city of New York/

All three of our protagonists, Clio, Smith and Tate, are 30-something Yale graduates who are finally, in their vastly different ways, growing up. Each of them has issues in their past that they need to resolve before they can move on, and although those issues do not relate directly to their experiences at Yale, it is their time at Yale that ties them all together.

This is also a story about privilege; having it, getting it, keeping it, and what it costs to do any of those things.

Clio and Tate were both scholarship students who never felt like they belonged in the rarefied Ivy League school. But Clio has forged a successful career as a renowned ornithologist, and Tate created an app that is sweeping the internet for millions of dollars. At the same time, they are both still figuring out who they want to be when they grow up, and recognizing that the time to take that step is now, if they can.

Clio and Smith were best friends and roommates at Yale. They know all each other’s secrets. The two women are still roommates, but now they share an upscale apartment in Manhattan that Smith’s parents pay for. Just like they paid the start-up costs for Smith’s business. It’s their way of controlling Smith. They love her, but they want her to be who they want her to be, and Smith has finally recognized that there is a price tag attached to all their generosity – and it’s a price that Smith is no longer willing to pay.

Smith and Tate are both recovering from relationships that were so very right for them, until they ended suddenly in a blaze of doubt and recriminations. Smith suspects that her parents interfered with her engagement to a talented Pakistani neurosurgeon, and Tate discovers that his windfall made his soon-to-be-ex wife see life in a different light. Or at least see the value of their impending divorce in a different shade of light – green.

Clio has found the love of her life, but is certain that she isn’t good enough to keep him. She’s even more sure that they can’t have a future until she reveals all the secrets she’s been keeping, And she recognizes that once all the cats are out of all the bags, the debonair hotelier who loves her may decide that she is too damaged to care for – just like her mother.

Escape Rating B: For a story that circles around so many “first-world problems” it is surprisingly not self-indulgent. Or its characters are not as self-indulgent as readers might first suppose.

I think that’s a result of using Clio as the central character. While her Yale education gives her a great deal of privilege, it is privilege that she earned. Clio grew up in New Haven, the child of a woman who finally committed suicide after decades of manic-depressive swings, and a father who had to work two or three jobs just to keep ahead of his wife’s manic spending sprees and to keep the household barely afloat.

Clio spends her childhood trying to be a little adult, and grasps the normalcy she creates in her adulthood as tightly as she can. She has also preserved her safe life by making sure that she never gets emotionally involved. She’s too scared to get close enough to tell anyone about her mother, and she’s much too afraid that she might find herself caught by the same disease. She doesn’t want to tie anyone else into the life she was forced to lead.

Which makes her initial panic when Henry asks her to move in with him more understandable to readers than it does to him. Clio thought he was safe to have a fling with, and ignored the tiny little voice that told her they were both in way too deep for that. Henry is older, and has made a career of going from city to city, creating beautiful hotels, and moving on from his new hotel and whoever he romanced while he built it. When he breaks pattern, telling Clio he wants a future with her, all of her fears are exposed. Her journey is to decide that she is entitled to a real life, and to bring Henry into her world, letting the chips fall where they may.

Smith is the child of real privilege, and her story is both getting over her heartbreak at the ending of her engagement, and getting over herself and her envy of her younger sister’s upcoming wedding and Clio’s probable move in with Henry. As Smith looks at her own life and her own feelings, she realizes that the price of her privilege is too high, and that if she wants her parents’ respect, or her own, she has to make it on her own.

Tate’s situation is caught in the middle between Clio and Smith. Not literally, there is thankfully no romantic triangle here. It’s that Tate went to Yale the same way that Clio did – he earned it on his own merits. But like Smith, his long-term relationship has ended, and he’s in the throes of an unwanted divorce. Also like Smith, he is wealthy, but in Tate’s case it is earned wealth and not family money.

There’s a part of me that wants to say The Ramblers reminds me a bit of Sex and the City. That resemblance is both in the way that the story serves as a love letter to New York City, and in the strength of the friendship between Clio and Smith. They are sisters-of-the-heart, and their relationship is the best part of the story.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a copy of THE RAMBLERS to one lucky U.S. commenter.

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Review: My Sweet Vidalia by Deborah Mantella

Review: My Sweet Vidalia by Deborah MantellaMy Sweet Vidalia by Deborah Mantella
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: literary fiction, Southern fiction
Pages: 272
Published by Turner Publishing on October 6th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

On July 4, 1955, in rural Georgia, an act of violence threatens the life of Vidalia Lee Kandal's pre-born daughter. Despite the direst of circumstances, the spirit of the lost child refuses to leave her ill-equipped young mother's side.
For as long as she is needed―through troubled pregnancies, through poverty, through spousal abuse and agonizing betrayals―Cieli Mae, the determined spirit child, narrates their journey. Serving as a safe place and sounding board for Vidalia's innermost thoughts and confusions, lending a strength to her momma's emerging voice, Cieli Mae provides her own special brand of comfort and encouragement, all the while honoring the restrictions imposed by her otherworldly status.
Vidalia finds further support in such unlikely townsfolk and relations as Doc Feldman, Gamma Gert and her Wild Women of God, and, most particularly, in Ruby Pearl Banks, the kind, courageous church lady, who has suffered her own share of heartache in their small Southern town of yesteryear's prejudices and presumptions.
My Sweet Vidalia is wise and witty, outstanding for its use of vibrant, poetic language and understated Southern dialect, as well as Mantella's clear-eyed observations of race relations as human relations, a cast of unforgettable characters, an in-depth exploration of the ties that bind, and its creative perspective. My Sweet Vidalia is a rare, wonderful, and complex look at hope, strength, the unparalleled power of unconditional love, and a young mother's refusal to give up.

My Review:

I finished this book in a rush, because the ending just wouldn’t let me go, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. And I’m still thinking. And feeling.

This story should be depressing, and it sort of is. But it isn’t written that way. It’s written in the tone of a surprising kind of joy. Possibly because of that ending.

It’s also more than a bit out of the ordinary, mostly because of the narrator.

My Sweet Vidalia is told in the first-person singular, about the life of Vidalia Lee Kandal. The narrator telling the story is the spirit of her first, miscarried child. And Cieli Mae’s otherworldly perspective makes for a surprising and fascinating point of view.

Vidalia Lee, or Vida Lee, leads a life that would make any woman in the 21st century shudder. When the story begins in 1955 in rural Georgia, we are witnesses to Vida Lee’s shotgun marriage to Jamerson Booth (JB) Jackson. And it is obvious even at the wedding that one of Vida Lee’s parents should have fired the shotgun at JB instead of forcing him to marry Vida Lee.

Vida Lee is marrying JB because he seduced her and got her pregnant. And even though it takes two to tango, 17-year-old Vida Lee really didn’t know any better. And 25-year-old JB Jackson not only knew much better, but deliberately set out to befriend and seduce young Vida Lee to keep her out of school and possibly keep her from making a better life for herself.

His sin is the deliberate act of grooming her to be abused, and then beating and abusing her for the next ten years. JB has absolutely no redeeming qualities except his absence. And Cieli Mae is all too aware of it. She is merely the first of several children that JB beat Vida Lee into miscarrying.

But it’s 1955 in the rural South, and no one can stand up for Vida Lee if she isn’t willing to stand up for herself. (And possibly not even then) She’s too beaten down and too scared to stand up for herself after her parents cut her off the day of her wedding. She’s all alone except for Cieli Mae.

The support that gathers around her is always somewhat covert. The local doctor treats her injuries and gives her leftovers from his practice, his office and his house. It’s clear that he is making up for some sin or another, but we don’t find out what it was until the very end.

People in town provide enough charity for Vida Lee to keep the two sets of twins she manages to carry to term mostly fed and mostly clothed, while setting up situations so that she doesn’t quite have to feel guilty about taking charity. Her mother-in-law helps out as best she can, all the while making excuses for her son’s abominable behavior.

But when Vidalia Lee and Ruby Pearl Banks adopt each other, even over the strict color line in rural Georgia, Vidalia finally finds the strength within herself to fix her situation.

And her solution is every bit as unorthodox as her spirit narrator could have dreamed up.

Escape Rating B: The first three-quarters of the book detail Vida Lee’s life, and the portrait is sad and chilling. We all know that this sort of tragedy actually happened, and all too often. She’s trapped in an abusive marriage and no one could help her out. Her virtual abandonment by her own parents leaves her with nothing but the necessity of dealing with her abuser as best she can.

And she does. Vida Lee’s story is a portrait of strength and hope in extreme adversity, and it surprisingly works.

Cieli Mae is a fascinating narrator. While no one can see her except Vida Lee, she does affect the world around her in surprising ways. She is also not a child, but a person with a much broader perspective on life and the world that her background would normally give her. She knows that Vida Lee’s situation is all wrong, and that it’s possible that something could be done if she just stood up for herself, but Cieli Mae can’t make her mother listen. She can’t really offer that much advice. But she can suggest, and her suggestions sometimes carry a lot of weight.

There were times when I wondered if Cieli Mae wasn’t merely a projection of Vida Lee’s own mind, just her own inner voice made separate so that she could deal with her world. I don’t think it matters. If this is Vida Lee’s coping mechanism, she had so much to cope with that it isn’t an unreasonable response.

After all of the horrible things that happen to Vida Lee, the ending is incredibly satisfying. The reader understands completely why things work out the way that they do, and there’s definitely a sense of relief that Vida Lee has the possibility of a great life to look forwards to.

And if you’ve ever been in the situation where someone you have had less than happy experiences with has died, and you go to the funeral not to grieve but to make sure the person is really dead, you’ll love the ending.

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Review: The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

Review: The Gap of Time by Jeanette WintersonThe Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction
Series: Hogarth Shakespeare
Pages: 273
Published by Hogarth on October 6th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s “late plays.” It tells the story of a king whose jealousy results in the banishment of his baby daughter and the death of his beautiful wife. His daughter is found and brought up by a shepherd on the Bohemian coast, but through a series of extraordinary events, father and daughter, and eventually mother too, are reunited.
In The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson’s cover version of The Winter’s Tale, we move from London, a city reeling after the 2008 financial crisis, to a storm-ravaged American city called New Bohemia. Her story is one of childhood friendship, money, status, technology and the elliptical nature of time. Written with energy and wit, this is a story of the consuming power of jealousy on the one hand, and redemption and the enduring love of a lost child on the other.

My Review:

There are occasions where the concept seems way better than the execution, and this may be one of them.

Last year, Hogarth Press, an imprint of Random Penguin, announced that as part of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016, they would be commissioning a series of novels by contemporary authors that would be contemporary re-writes of Shakespeare’s plays. It looks like as many as they can manage, stretching out several years, by authors who are generally well-known, well-respected, or both. Anne Tyler will be doing The Taming of the Shrew, and Jo Nesbo will be handling Macbeth. That one I can’t wait to read.

But The Gap of Time is the first book in the series. It is Jeanette Winterson’s new vision of one of Shakespeare’s final plays, The Winter’s Tale.

The plot of The Gap of Time follows the story of The Winter’s Tale close to exactly. Except for somewhat superficial changes of profession and the way the world works differently, the stories are the same. Which means that any synopsis of the play is spoiler-ridden for the book.

One thing that is fairly clear – circumstances may change, but human beings are pretty much the same. The plot is relatively simple, but the execution of the 21st century version gets a bit complex.

In both stories, two men are childhood friends, and that friendship continues into adulthood. Both men are rich and successful. When Leo marries the beautiful and successful Mimi, the friendship between Leo and Xeno opens to include Mimi. It’s never a three-way, but it is pretty clear that everyone loves everyone to some degree or another.

Then Leo goes crazy. He decides, based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever, that Xeno and Mimi are having an affair, and that the child Mimi is carrying is really Xeno’s. There’s no affair and the child is Leo’s.

One of the things that makes the 21st century different from the 17th is that Leo can get a paternity test for the child. He can find out for sure. But when he finally does, he refuses to believe the scientific evidence. As I said, he’s gone round the bend.

Through a series of mishaps and criminal interventions, after the baby is born, Leo gets the little girl shipped off, and through even more mishaps she is adopted by a widower and his teenage son. Little Perdita has a very happy life, knowing she’s adopted but also knowing that she is loved.

It’s only when Perdita herself is on the verge of adulthood that all of the buried secrets finally come out. The effect is both catastrophic and cathartic, but those that deserve it get a happy ending.

Escape Rating C: I liked the last third of this book way more than the first third, even though the story in the first third is more straightforward, right up until the baby abandoning debacle. The last third, while it has its confusing aspects, clips along rapidly, and all of Leo’s many, many mistakes finally get resolved, even though it feels like his ending in this story is the least happy. But then, he doesn’t really deserve happiness at the end of this mess.

Everyone suffers a lot of heartbreak to finally reach that ending. Leo comes off as totally bonkers. He’s gotten a horrible idea fixed in his head, and can’t get it out. That Leo has this particular fixation has more to do with what he’s repressing than anything that he sees in real life. It’s pretty obvious to the reader, and quite possibly everyone else except Leo, that Leo is in love with both his wife and his best friend. The two of them running off together represents his worst fears, that he would lose them both. So he’s rejecting them first.

Giving the baby away, essentially abandoning her, is the crisis that sends everyone’s lives into a complete tailspin. Mimi becomes a recluse, Leo is still successful but totally alone, Xeno becomes an alcoholic hermit. Their lives are on hold for 18 years as the little girl, known as Perdita, grows up.

The catalyst for change occurs when Perdita meets Xeno’s son Zel, and they fall in love. Xeno arrives to spout doom and gloom, Perdita’s adopted father has a stroke, and Perdita learns enough of her own origin story to realize that she might have fallen in love with her half-brother. She and Zel go on a journey to find out the truth, and all of the members of the earlier generation are finally forced to confront each other and the events that drove them apart.

The plot is pretty much the same for both the book and the play, but something gets lost in the gap of time between the early 1600s and the early 2010s. Or things get added and interpreted differently. Or both.

On the one hand, Leo’s obsession with his wife and his best friend makes a bit more sense in contemporary terms. Xeno has no qualms about admitting that he’s gay, and while Leo doesn’t like to talk about it, it’s obvious to readers that he is bi. That he loves both of them and can’t quite admit it makes his motives make a bit more sense. On that other hand, his refusal at first to have a paternity test done, and his later refusal to admit its validity are just plain nuts. In the 1600s, his inability to accept Mimi’s and Xeno’s word that they are not having an affair rests totally on how much he trusts them. Since he doesn’t trust them at all, he doesn’t accept what they say is true. Rejecting the scientific paternity test just seems bizarre.

The way that the baby gets “lost” ends up reading like a visit from the Keystone Kops, along with their more murderous criminals. It’s necessary to the story, but just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to this reader. On the other hand, Leo was completely bonkers by this point.

So the setup was slow and had some bits that didn’t work for modern times. The last act, where everything gets revealed, has the virtue of moving fast. Everything gets wrapped up in a hurry. While it was great to see all the craziness work out and true love triumphant, it felt like the 21st century parts of the plot got left hanging a bit.

As an experiment, The Gap of Time is fascinating. As a story, the updating left some glaring plot holes.

Your iambic pentameter, or lack thereof, may vary.