Minot (Monkeys; Lust) is a curious writer: hardly a particle of her work is original, but she writes brilliantly in the tone, manner, and style of past writers—Fitzgerald, Hemingway, James, Cather, Woolf, even Marquand and Evan Connell—the flavor and energies of whose work she seems to have absorbed like blotting paper. This, her first novel, is the story of Lilian Eliot, daughter of upper-class Boston parents, who in 1917 is swept off her feet by a handsome young man about to depart for the war. He proves something of a cad, staying in Europe after 1918 to marry there, leaving the sensitive Lilian to make what she can of her privileged but emptiness-threatened life in Boston. Not until she's 26 and the Jazz Age has arrived does Lilian meet and marry one Gilbert Finch, a quiet young man of the proper class who also fought in Europe and now enjoys bird-watching. Gilbert will provide Lilian with three children, will recover from a nervous breakdown that's rivetingly and beautifully described, and over time will give his wife—as the 1920's end and the 1930's begin sifting through the hourglass- -stability and order but not passion. The handsome young cad from 1917—Walter Vail—will reappear, giving Lilian occasion once and all to reckon up her life. Throughout, Minot offers exquisitely crafted narrative bouquets in these pages of tone-perfect and tireless garnerings from the subjects and spirit of the masters. Her eye for the acute detail is flawless, period flavor is impeccable, character is drawn with conciseness, and style is repeatedly lovely, with seldom a clumsy step. Expert, often poignantly moving prose about life in a past time and place. Rich with pleasures from start to end, so long as you don't mind their being mainly secondhand.
Read full book review >