Appel tells the story of the colorful life and death of Mandy Flanagan in this debut literary novel.
Connecticut, 1983. People gather in the town of Wallingford to attend the funeral of Mandy Flanagan, a former theater actress who spent much of her life in New York. Attendees include Mandy’s severe, somewhat jealous sister, Barbie; her newspaper-hoarding younger brother, Ned; her gay niece, Jan, who has returned after eight years away in San Francisco; Jan’s former girlfriend Terri, who is now married to a man and has three children; and a number of older men who hold Mandy in particularly high regard. The tale of Mandy’s life begins to unfold: the child of working-class Irish immigrants in South Boston, Mandy agreed at 17 to marry the scion of a Boston Brahmin family, Henry Russell—even though she had no intention of not becoming a Broadway star or limiting herself to the affections of one man. They elope to New York, and the marriage doesn’t last long; Mandy cycles through lovers—some significant, some not—in order to advance her career. Now, decades later, old lovers and family members gather, some meeting for the first time to reflect on and correct their versions of Mandy—and of themselves. Appel writes in the natural prose of a raconteur, rising occasionally to the level of lyricism when praising her heroine, as here where she is seen through the eyes of Henry during a trip to the beach: “He thought she could be a beacon for sailors, anchored against the wind and the sea, except that he was sure the men would want to come closer to see for themselves the wild green tassels blowing on her dress, enticing them like a siren, power swirling around her.” It’s a wide-ranging tale, full of minor characters and digressions, and the reader isn’t always sure where things are going. Even so, Appel manages to hold her web of malcontents (and the novel) together with her easy narration and her larger-than-life protagonist.
A well-told account of a striver and dreamer who got some of what she wanted.