Sunday, July 28, 2013

"Fin and Lady," by Cathleen Schine

Cathleen Schine, whose “The Three Weissmanns of Westport” I posted about on 4/11/10, has a new novel out: “Fin and Lady” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), and it is just as lively and engrossing as the earlier novel. (She has also written several other novels.) Both are full of life, full of interactions, meditations, surprises. In “Fin and Lady,” an eleven-year-old boy is orphaned and goes to live with his glamorous, fun but restless and moody, older half-sister in Greenwich Village in New York in 1964 (but it somehow seems like a slightly earlier era, perhaps because the expectations for women were still so restricted...). It is a huge change for young Fin, who has not only lost his parents but also his roots on a dairy farm in rural Connecticut. Lady is warm and welcoming to Fin, admirably seeming not to hesitate for one moment to take on the sudden responsibility of being guardian of a young boy she has only met a couple of times, but they make an odd pairing, and they know so little about each other’s very different lives. Lady isn’t sure how to be a guardian/big sister/substitute mother, and Fin has to learn how to adapt to the new situation. He is in fact remarkably adaptable (the one thing I find not entirely believable is the swiftness with which he does adapt, although perhaps it is because he has no choice, and because Lady is genuinely loving if an atypical “parent”), and comes to love Lady profoundly. He also finds that she is unsure about what is important in her life, and her constant need to do new things, go to new places, be with new people is a sign of this. She wants to marry, she says, but she seems at the same time to resist this kind of commitment, and she keeps several suitors dangling. These suitors develop the habit of all visiting Lady and Fin, sometimes at the same time, each hoping she will make up her mind in his favor. I don’t want to reveal more of the story than this, but there are many plot developments, and they definitely kept me glued to the book. There is a bittersweet ending, but one that readers can accept and even celebrate some aspects of. These two unusual characters, Fin and Lady, and their touching if unusual relationship, are the central draw of this engaging novel.

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