Saturday, September 17, 2011

Literary License Fiction Round-Up

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan: Nancy Horan’s debut novel—a fictionalized account of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s adulterous relationship with Mamah Borthwirk Cheney—explores the tension between duty to family and freedom to pursue love. When Frank and Mamah, who hires Frank along with her husband to design a house for their family, fall in love, they are ostracized by their former friends and denigrated in the press. Horan portrays Frank and Mamah’s relationship unsentimentally and, at times, in an unflattering light. Frank and Mamah are self-absorbed and arrogant in their love, but Horan elicits sympathy for these two talented and passionate people who are confined by their society. Intelligent historical fiction.

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine: A clever reimagining of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. When the husband of septuagenarian Betty Weissmann decides to divorce her to pursue a relationship with his much younger co-worker, Betty moves out of their shared Manhattan apartment into a dumpy beach cottage in Westport. Betty’s two unmarried, middle-aged daughters move in with her to provide emotional support but end up needing more support than Betty. Although Schine’s novel is loosely based on Sense and Sensibility, the novel’s resolution is original and unpredictable. Filled with clever dialog, quirky characters, and enough humor to maintain a light tone despite weighty issues like divorce, aging, and death, The Three Weissmanns of Westport is a perfect summer read.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett: Marina, a pharmacologist at a large pharmaceutical company, travels into the heart of the Amazon jungle to check up on a reclusive colleague (Dr. Swenson) engaged in researching a remote tribe that’s discovered the secret to lifelong fertility. Patchett has developed some wonderfully vivid characters, especially Dr. Swenson. The jungle is portrayed in lush detail, and the science is meticulously described. However, this novel is overloaded; there’s too much science, too much complicated backstory, and too many long passages devoted to characterization. The overall effect is a sluggish read, and Marina doesn’t even make it into the jungle until midway through the novel. State of Wonder is a worthwhile read but doesn’t live up to all the hype.

Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman: Despite the fact that most of us spend the majority of our waking hours sitting at our office desks, there are relatively few novels that explore this setting. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris is one good example of such a book, and, now, Domestic Violets can be added to the (relatively short) list. Clearly, Norman has some experience with office work. He portrays the petty feuds, the office flirtations, the awkward boss-employee relationships, the stolen afternoons at the golf course, and the overall cynicism that monotonous office work can breed perfectly. Other aspects of this novel ring true to life, including the marital difficulties and the challenges of the writer's life, but I most appreciated Norman's treatment of office life. Norman tempers the novel's cynical tone with plenty of humor to create an enjoyable read.


Gsyle said...

I think I liked State of Wonder more than you did. Loving Frank and Domestic Violets are on my list, tho!

Gayle said...

Um, that was "Gayle"

Zibilee said...

I liked Domestic Violets a lot and thought it was a really great and funny book. I laughed a lot while reading that and got a lot of strange looks. I also just bought State of Wonder and can't wait to get the chance to read it. Excellent mini-reviews today!