MANSFIELD REVISITED

Finding myself filled with an overmastering wish to find out what happened after Fanny married Edmund, and when Susan came to live at Mansfield," Aiken offers a smooth sequel to Jane Austen's 1814 Mansfield Park—with steady charm and humor, but with tidy sentimentality taking the place of Austen's more rigorous exploration of character. It's some five years after the wedding of Edmund to cousin Fanny; Edmund's father, Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park, has died while on business in the West Indies; so Fanny and Edmund, with a baby son, set off to settle family matters in Antigua—leaving indolent, self-involved Lady Bertram to be looked after by Edmund's hearty brother Tom (the new Sir Thomas) and by Fanny's 18-year-old sister Susan, who has been Lady B.'s live-in companion since coming to Mansfield Park at age 1.4. (Fanny and Susan are poor relations from a shabby naval household in Portsmouth.) From the start, then, it seems as if brusque Tom and saucy Susan are headed for another cousinly romance—especially since they're constantly bickering. Before the final confessions of devotion, however, there'll be an array of Austen-ish red herrings: Tom's insufferable sister Julia, a meddling snob living nearby, is intent on pairing Tom off with her equally snooty sister-in-law; Tom himself, a huntsman who's far from eager to marry at 30, plans eventually to ask for the hand of sweet, pretty Miss Harley (another neighbor); Susan finds a soulmate in a gentle visiting clergyman. Then, arriving suddenly from the pages of Mansfield Park, the notorious Crawfords reappear on the scene: vivacious Mary (once courted by Edmund) is now a frail, courageous refugee from a disastrous marriage, seriously ill; her brother Henry (once the dishonorable suitor of Fanny) now seems to be a changed man; they take up residence in the White House, a Mansfield Park cottage with happy memories for the dying Mary, who is soon being doted upon by fine Susan. But, though a series of events—a ruined picnic, Tom's fall from a horse, Miss Harley's engagement—brings both Tom and Susan close to the newly noble Crawfords, the cousins will end up blissfully together. . . after a teary deathbed scene (more Dickens than Austen) and the usual misunderstandings. Throughout, in fact, Aiken's sense and sensibility are more marshmallowy than Austen's—softening Lady B.'s selfishness, redeeming the Crawfords, transforming shallow Tom into a fit mate for Susan with implausible ease. But, while the more hard-headed Austen fans will probably prefer Jane Gillespie's 1983 Ladysmead (all about what happened to horrid Maria Bertram, an offstage player here), other Mansfield Parkers will find this an endearing, cozily amusing follow-up.

Pub Date: March 1, 1985

ISBN: 0575400242

Page Count: 193

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1985

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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