Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cathleen Schine Shines in Fin and Lady

I have my friend Andrea to thank for suggesting that I would love Cathleen Schine's latest novel, Fin and Lady. Girl, you know me! And I also know Andrea so it was no surprise that she would be seduced by the quiet power of this lovely book. I listened to the audio version which was enchantingly read by Anne Twomey.

Fin Hadley, named on a whim by his tough, stuffy father as he watched the "end" of a French film, meets his half sister, Lady, on that most decadent, gorgeous Italian island, Capri, where she has run to escape a shotgun wedding, infuriating Mr. Hadley but casting a spell on the impressionable little boy. Orphaned only a few years later, Fin must leave his family's Connecticut farm and move to Greenwich Village to be raised by Lady, scarcely grown up herself and in no emotional position to be guardian to a precocious eleven-year-old.

It's the heady decade of the 1960's and Lady, who seems to have a bottomless trust fund, fully embraces the anthem of freedom espoused by the likes of Janis Joplin in Me and Bobby McGee. Juggling three lovers at a time, only one of whom cares an iota for the observant and oh so smart Fin, Lady dines and dances into the early morning hours, making sure that part of Fin's education involves the fine art of mixing the perfect martini as well as learning to appreciate art and literature.

Lady toys with people. She's a complex figure who throws herself into the anti-war effort and the civil rights movement, happy to demonstrate anywhere at any time, yet she doesn't seem to comprehend the irony of the fact that she relies on her black maid Mabel to run her home, cook, clean and look the other way when she behaves badly. It's Fin who begins to wonder who Mabel is and what her life is like when she leaves the Greenwich tower at the end of the day.

Fin and Lady are two very lonely people. Neither has deep friendships except for Fin's neighbor and school chum, Phoebe, another great character who astutely observes Fin's relationship with Lady with wry amusement. There's a  symbiosis between the siblings that leaves readers questioning just who is taking care of whom? What constitutes a family? When Lady tasks Fin with finding a suitable husband for her by the time she's 25, (could she really be so traditional?) he throws himself whole-heartedly into the project - after all, this person will be getting a package deal.

Cathleen Schine (The Three Weissmann's of Westport) has written a delicate, sad, yet satisfying novel, told by a mysterious narrator whose identity only becomes clear toward the finale. This book overflows with loss yet it's fitting and right. It also overflows with love and wisdom and an evocation of an era when life was fleeting and candles burned at both ends. Thank you Ms. Schine for the memories.

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