A woman faces the void in her life and home after the death of her longtime companion.
“He was a big man and he leaves a big space,” writes Christina about the recently deceased Rudy, a Vienna-born composer who shared her life for 28 years. At five o’clock, when Rudy would punctually begin grinding ice and slicing lime for her gin and soda, their farmhouse in upstate New York seems especially empty. Throughout, Frances Halsband’s line drawings of objects like Rudy’s chair, his metronome, and “Ralph the knife” (for the limes) underscore the text’s keening sense of absence as a palpable physical presence. Like Godwin (Evensong, 1990, etc.), Christina is a southern-born, divorced novelist, veteran of a teaching stint at Iowa; these similarities to her creator, along with the dedication to composer Robert Starer, Godwin’s own partner, who died in 2001, suggest that this is not so much fiction as an autobiographical meditation on love and loss cast in the form the author knows best. A few carefully selected memories reveal Rudy’s arrogance and frequently awful social behavior as well as his warmth and charm. Godwin’s experience and skill (this is her 11th novel) show in the absence of sentimentality, the seamless shiftings of time as Christina remembers incidents from her past, and the nicely calibrated mix of tragedy and comedy. The predominant tone is certainly sad, but there’s a surprising amount of humor, particularly in some very maladroit sympathy notes (“Beth is on her way to becoming an accomplished musician. Had it not been for Rudy’s prompting, I might not have acted so quickly”). The story does feel rather slight, but presumably it’s intended to be a personal statement, not the last word on death or loss. As Rudy once remarked about his work, “I used to try to be original. Now I try to be clear and essential.”
Intimate and touching, albeit not revelatory.