[Aspiring novelist Margaret finds herself using her friend Letty’s life in her writing]
I had had lingering qualms…. Whenever my pages had surged ahead, infused with Letty’s reactions, even sometimes with her own words, I’d reminded myself that this was only an exercise, a means of teaching myself how to create a character, a skill I would then apply to a far different character in far other circumstances. My reunion with my former student, however, wiped away all such niceties. A novel must be produced. Quickly. And this one was clearly well under way.
In fact, it occurred to me that it might even be a very good novel…
[Later, after talking to Letty] When I’d hung up the phone, I started for the bedroom, but stopped just before the door. The story pressed at me from within, pushing me irresistibly toward the closet/study. I turned on my computer and waited impatiently through its hemming and hawing. At last the screen was blank and my fingers pounced upon the keys.
observations: At one point Margaret, a teacher, says that she thought she was in Goodbye Mr Chips, but it turned out to be Lord of the Flies. It’s something like that for the reader too: one of the reviews quoted on the back says the book is ‘as funny as it is cruel’ which is quite a good description. The back cover also tells you most of the plot, so I don’t feel that I have to hold back in that area, though I think it is better to read the book not knowing what is coming.
Yes, it is funny. Margaret, in New York, is quite certain she can be a successful novelist, so she negotiates with her husband to stop working for a year. The description of her endlessly putting off writing, her writer’s block, her lack of subject matter, and her extreme self-delusion is very funny, and Schwarz manages to make her not as infuriating as you would expect. Meanwhile she is in constant contact with her childhood friend Letty, who lives in California and is a stay-at-home mother whose husband is about to get a new job. Margaret is running out of material and options and is lying to people about her writing. Letty gets caught up in a maelstrom of spending and home- and self-improvements. There’s a terrible inevitability that things are not going to end well for either of them. You want to strangle both of them at times. And at times I was hoping for a magical happy ending…
The jokes and observations are sharp and clever. I liked this on management consultants:
She convinced executives nearly twice her age to restructure corporations in industries and services in which they’d spent their entire working lives and in which she’d invested a few months.And Schwarz is excellent on social events, embarrassment and mortification, and ways of fooling ourselves.
Letty’s life made me think of a long-ago book: The Serial by Cyra McFadden, a very funny 1970s classic.
I can’t decide what my overall conclusion on the book is. Schwarz is a very good writer, but there is something odd about the structure of this book. The first half is quite long and repetitious, and the POV changes are strange. I liked reading it, but wish it had been half the length...
I wanted a picture of a writer at her desk, but it seemed terribly unfair to use a living woman, who might reasonably object to being connected with Margaret in the book. So this is a ‘photograph of the Scottish travel writer, Saira Elizabeth Luiza Shah (who died on 15 August 1960), sitting at her desk with a typewriter before her’ from Wikimedia Commons. CiB has a long-standing campaign to bring back hat-wearing-indoors-at-desk, as seen in avatar, and in this blogpost.