WINFIELD by Monica Randall


Living in the Shadow of the Woolworths
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Randall, who grew up on Long Island’s North Shore surrounded by the stately homes built during “the Gold Coast Era,” offers an odd memoir of her experiences living in one of its remaining mansions.

During the Gold Coast’s heyday in the 1920s, some 600 villas, chateaux, and castles looked over Long Island Sound. “The members of this elite society, regardless of where they came from, set out to play at being English,” writes Randall. “Hunt clubs, polo games, and Edwardian teas became a way of life.” At first, she seems to have no time for such extravagant bijouterie, but soon enough the mansions become an “all-consuming obsession”; she compiles a photographic record of the remaining ones and arranges for them to be used for fashion photo shoots. When Randall actually moves into the Woolworth estate, Winfield, she is overwhelmed by the sheer history and psychic energy of the house. She hears disembodied voices (writing in one of the more provocative passages that “marble had the ability to trap vibrational sounds for an indefinite period”) and finds hidden chambers; she holds seances; she has dark and spooky encounters with the hired help. Although Randall’s forebodings don’t feel stagy, exactly, they lack the creepy substance of bone-deep intuition. Her plausibility isn’t helped by her purple prose: “I was aware of the still and pungent air while silvery-winged birds who flew only at night sang their canticles of insensible gloom.” Randall suggests in closing that we would do well “to better understand the entire spectrum of subtle energies, or soul essences, that appear to linger long after we’re gone.” Readers may well feel that if the author had better understood them herself she would have produced a more rewarding account of it all.

A personal fascination that never lifts off the page to engage either as history or as romance. (16 pp. b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: May 14th, 2003
ISBN: 0-312-30982-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2003