Alison Lurie – Foreign Affairs

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I don’t often to do this as I finish one of the Pulitzer winners, but I read through Drew’s post from some time ago before I write my impressions because I was conflicted about this novel. Drew may want to reread what he wrote after we talk about this one, but it is past midnight now and he is probably in bed. I listened to this entire novel on audiobook over the course of two days. What I can say for it from the start is that it is an engrossing novel which suited itself perfectly for my purposes. I am very impressed with the way that it held my attention. I cannot say the same thing for many other Pulitzer winners. Drew seemed to be impressed with the relationship dynamics that played themselves out throughout this novel. I felt that often they were overwrought. Drew commented on this fact eloquently so I do not have to elaborate on that issue here because we agree completely about this. It just so happened that Fred was sitting in a park eating a sandwich under a tree when Vinnie Minor happened to be walking through the park at the same time. Vinnie Minor trudges through the heath to find Fred at midnight in London at a large public gathering, and Fred just so happens to be on the street watching as she crests the hill. There are many serendipitous moments sprinkled throughout the novel, at one point, Lurie explains to the reader through the uneducated character, Chuck, what exactly serendipity means. I believe if you look in the Oxford English Dictionary next to the entry on heavy-handed, this exact moment, as well as this illustration, is exactly what heavy-handed means. There are several moments throughout this novel that aggravated me and brought me out of the story. Luckily, I was listening to this novel which propelled me onward faster than if I had been reading the text as I would have put it down and walked away from it for a couple of days. The audiobook version of this novel saved my appreciation of it quite often as one passage would be terribly disappointing and then the next paragraph would be delightful and engaging which kept my attention and appreciation from being destroyed.  I do not want to get carried away with negativity in this review. With that said, I want to get some bad news out of the way, and then end on a high note. I have never read a romance novel, but in Drew’s review he claimed that this novel was not a romance novel. I would like to suggest otherwise. If it was not an overtly racy novel, it certain had overwrought descriptions of male anatomy more often than any other description. I don’t think that this specifically qualifies the text as a romance novel, but it puts it on the map. In addition to this, the entire point of the novel was romantic relationships. There is a smattering of high minded ideals and witty banter but it felt like a very staged Victorian romance novel set in modern London with strong echoes of the past. There is the struggle of Vinnie, the sexually repressed Professor who is not altogether unattractive, plain is her mantra, and Fred, the up-and-coming, off-puttingly handsome and fast climbing English professor. Given that premise alone, one would start to form an idea of where this is headed. You would be wrong, Vinnie and Fred do not get together, no one wants to read that. Instead, Vinnie has to link up with Chuck, a commoner from Tulsa who Vinnie is too embarrassed of to admit to anyone but her gay friend at the end that they were lovers. This is where I get on a positive note. Although much of the novel seemed to me of trite romance novel ploys for depth, there is some real depth here. Drew’s example of the revolutionary war imagery drummed up at one point I thought was very trite, but there are other examples. I felt that at points the indecision of the characters, and the genuinely difficult decisions any of the characters would have to make was intriguing. Unfortunately, Lurie had to spell out just exactly why those decisions would be difficult. It is always difficult to have a story take place in a different culture than the intended audience, but I felt that Lurie’s heavy-handedness in explaining every point of the cultural differences to the reader is what really pointed out the target audience and by that just how much of a romance novel it was. Nevertheless, Rosemary’s crack-up in the end was bizarre and unexpected which was a legitimate treat.

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