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Friday, March 15, 2013
12:29 pm edt
The only time I attended a class reunion was almost eleven years ago. I had moved to this house less than
three months before and was still settling in when a friend from college decided to visit for the weekend. We drove up that
Saturday to New York together, reconnected with our fellow alumnae, then headed back home to play marathon games of Scrabble
until it was time to drive her to the airport on Sunday evening. I remember, no offense, that it was the visit and the Scrabble
that I enjoyed much more than the actual reunion. In my mind, reunions can be deadly reminiscent, especially if, after graduation,
you barely kept in touch with your classmates. Or them with you.
The same feelings pervade in Reunion, a novel by Hugh Fox, published in August 2011 by Luminis Books (Carmel, IN), a successfully independent publisher who has,
to my delight, added me to their reviewer list. Reunion arrived last week on my stoop along with five other books to read and review (which I will do in the next month or so). I
think it was the cover, actually, that prompted me to read it first. On it, there are cartoon faces—the top row of elderly
reunion alumni; the bottom of them as young children when they attended Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows elementary school in
Chicago. The images depicted characters in the novel, including the main one, sixty-four year-old Buzz "Buzzy”
Lox, an erudite college professor, who, with his fourth wife, travels down to Illinois from their home in rural Michigan to
attend. His journey is one not of just simply visiting and reconnecting, but one of reminiscences, regrets, regeneration,
and renewal. As Buzz recreates his life, he realizes that, perhaps, his best years are behind him and there is not much time
left or much else to look forward to.
While reading this somewhat sad and nostalgic novel, I sensed that it was
really a roman à clef—a fictionalized version of the author's reflections upon his own life. Fox, a native of
Chicago, was born in 1932. A professor of literature, he is a renowned author in his own right, having published literary
works of poetry, fiction, and archaeology. And he is, now, at "that age" when one tends to recall the years before
while somewhat morbidly anticipating those ahead. Which is what the main character in Reunion does. Lox spends his two days in Chicago trying to both recapture his youth and come to grips with his mortality. This novel
was at first intriguing. Except for Mary McCarthy's The Group, I had yet
to read a really good "reunion" story, and was anticipating that this would be one, as well. But not quite half-way
through, I found that the sprinkling of humor degenerated into a thick layer of dusty gloom as the author laments and philosophizes
through Buzz. I guess I just wasn't in the mood for such "in-your-face" almost rude depression. The only thing really
amusing about the book was the cover.
This would have been a really good rather then just a "meh" read
if Fox had taken the time to punch up the humor rather than derail us with sadness. Poignancy would have also added a lot,
although the ending was a valiant attempt to uplift both the protagonist's and reader's spirits. It could also have benefited
by the services of a detail-oriented editor. In addition to the starkness of Fox's efforts, many blatant typographical, grammatical,
and non-sequitor errors jarred the flow of my reading. I can cope with one or two mistakes—editors are human—but
a whole host of them pervasive throughout a book is unforgiveable.
That being said, Fox does have a fluid way with
words and his characters do ring true-to-life. For some reason throughout this novel I had the feeling that I was back once
again at my college reunion, forced to reflect upon my own life. Yet, I eagerly wanted to be home again, anticipating
the next game of Scrabble.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
1:07 pm edt
Sundays without an episode of Downton Abbey
to look forward to in the evenings is like meatloaf without buttered mashed potatoes and gravy. And even though the PBS station
in New York has been re-running Season Three, DA, it seems, has all but
been forgotten by the local program directors here. So, for the past three weeks, I've been literally starving, now on a forced
diet until January 6, 2014; I am counting the days when I can break my fast, much like a kid who has given up candy for Lent.
But wait, there is a reprieve; a little sorbet to keep me, us (if you are an avid Downton-ite as I am—and who isn't?)
going until next year.
Fay Weldon, the co-writer of many episodes of the BBC show, Upstairs, Downstairs, created by and starring Jean Marsh, has penned a trilogy set in the same time
(and places) as our beloved Downton Abbey
to keep us salivating for more. Even some of her characters' names are the same; even their situations and circumstances are
quite remarkably similar. And the beauty of her novels is that we can read them any time, not just on wintery Sunday evenings.
The first novel, Habits of the House1, finds Earl Robert and Lady Isobel, heads of the Hedleigh of Dilberne clan on the brink of bankruptcy, plotting
for their seemingly wayward son, Arthur to marry a rich heiress to save their estates and reputation and place in London's
High Society at the turn of the last century. Sound all too familiar? Enter vastly rich Tessa O'Brien (read boisterous "Molly
Brown" played by Shirley MacClaine here) and her beautiful, but "flawed" daughter, Minnie—heiress to
her father's Chicago meat-packing enterprises—and we have what one British critic in the Guardian Review termed "...an entertaining romp for Downton
Abbey fans...". Entertaining a read this book might be,
I found it to be somewhat of a knock-off. Weldon seems to be capitalizing on her early 1970s Upstairs, Downstairs fame and has jumped onto Julian Fellowes' coattails, going along for the richly,
Please don't get me wrong. After all, Marsh and Weldon were the modern forerunners of BBC period
pieces set in the late 1890s/early 1900s. And I am not one to shun good reads with similar motifs. We all know there is enough
room in our large literary market for well-crafted doppelgangers. As a matter of fact, once I did get into the swing of Weldon's
run-on-sentence and convoluted explanatory style, I found Habits of the House a really decent read, albeit a bit too reminiscent of DA. But a Fellowes
she is not, even through he does eschew the “hardships of writing about happiness" for the much easier doom and
gloom that is now pervading the Crowley family. Robert and Isobel Hedleigh are, it seems, a much lighter, flufflier couple
than Robert and Cora Crowley—they have yet to [**SPOILER**] lose a nephew, a daughter, and a son-in-law in tragic circumstances.
But, then again, Habits of the House is only the first of Weldon's trilogy. Long Live the King is yet to come to America on April 13 of this year, with The New Countess
soon to follow. Only Weldon and her publishers know what is to befall her delightful characters, upstairs and downstairs alike.
But if her second and third titles and the DA Season 4 previews are any indications, one need not second-guess; we pretty
much already get the gist of the remaining plot lines. Our fond hope is that they are as well-written as the first.
My only concern is that once I was savoring Weldon’s story, she bused away the dishes, so to speak, and chopped up
the ending in the last third of the novel—as if she was in a rush to dispense with writing and quickly finish the book.
The denouement lacked the style and explanations I had come to enjoy in the beginning. A few dangling loose ends were quite
disappointing, although I hope the author picks up her threads again in the second novel with a bit more diligence.
Still, this novel and its successors were/are/will be welcomed stop-gaps in the emptiness/void formed by the (all-so-sad
and aggravating) ending of DA 3. Weldon's literary endeavors—three
of the many novels she has written over the course of the past thirty some-odd years—are hors d'oeuvres, meatloaf, and
a bit of sweet dessert to tide me/us over until Downton Abbey once again returns
in all its original glory.
1 ©2012 Fay Weldon. Originally published in the United Kingdom,
the First USA Edition (hardback, 314 pages) was published here in January, 2013 by St. Martin's Press, New York, NY. I managed
to obtain a library copy after being on the reserved waiting list for three weeks. I still haven't decided if it was well
worth the wait.
J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is
an author, poet, and librettist. Her currenty published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations,
volumes of poetry, stories
for children (of all ages) and
a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville
during World War II
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members
of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A
Collection of More Spiritual Poems
We Three Kings
Beauty and the Beast
Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding
Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She
is currently working on her fourth novel.