Fin & Lady

By Cathleen Schine

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26, 288 pages)

Who is this author?

Cathleen Schine, who was born in Bridgeport and grew up in Westport, has written some internationally best-selling novels:  “The Love Letter” (1995), adapted as a movie starring Kate Capshaw, and “Rameau’s Niece” (1993), which also became  movie (“The Misadventures of Margaret” with Parker Posey.)  Schine also wrote “Alice in Bed” (1983), “To the Bird House” (1990), “The Evolution of Jane” (1999), “She Is Me” (2003), “The New Yorkers” (2006), and “The Three Weissmanns of Westport” (2010), a contemporary take on Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.” She also has written for such publications as The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, and The New York Times Book Review.

Here’s what Schine told an interviewer about her career path: “I tried to be a medieval historian, but I have no memory for facts, dates, or abstract ideas, so that was a bust. When I came back to New York, I tried to be a buyer at Bloomingdale’s because I loved shopping. I had an interview, but they never called me back. I really had no choice. I had to be a writer. I could not get a job. After doing some bits of freelance journalism at The Village Voice, I did finally get a job as a copy editor at Newsweek. My grammar was good, but I can’t spell, so it was a challenge. My boss was very nice and indulgent, though, and I wrote “Alice in Bed” on scraps of paper during slow hours. I didn’t have a regular job again until I wrote “The Love Letter.”

What is this book about?

It’s the ‘60s, and two step-siblings, Fin and Lady, have lost their parents. He’s 11 and she’s 24. He’s a typical kid living on a Connecticut dairy farm ,and she’s a freedom-obsessed sophisticate living in swinging Greenwich Village. After not seeing one another for six years, she’s taking him in, but he’s taking care of the madcap Lady in other important ways.  The Vietnam War and civil rights movement are causing ferment, and are the background to this personal drama, a story of what it takes to make a family, told with bittersweet humor.

Why you’ll like it:

Schine has created two characters here who will draw readers in, and having a young but sensible boy take on the responsibility of keeping his wild-child older sister out of real trouble is a nifty plot idea. The author is good at dialogue and character development, and also manages to infuse this story with enough humor to keep it lively and enough poignancy to keep it sympathetic. It’s a coming of age story in which the younger protagonist seems older, wiser and less naïve than the older one, a nice twist.

What others are saying:

The Washington Post says: “Wonderfully funny though they often are, Cathleen Schine’s novels are steeped in sadness…Schine knows that laughter isn’t just an escape from life’s sorrows, but also a recognition of them…[“Fin & Lady”] is, in essence, a novel about the choices we make in creating a family and about the inevitable limits of freedom…There are good wisecracks in the Capri chapters, but Schine’s wit is muted in favor of unabashed sentiment…her sincerity here suits both her protagonists’ youth and the impassioned era of their joint odyssey. The 1960s seem a less than ideal setting for a comedy of manners, and indeed this is not really a comedy. But Schine conveys the rapidly shifting mores of the ’60s, as well as the slowly unfolding understanding of these appealingly vulnerable characters.”

Says Publishers Weekly:  “Schine’s new novel …is an entertaining, sometimes perplexing exploration of family bonds and bondage. When Fin is orphaned at the age of 11, Lady, his half-sister, takes him in, pulling him away from the dairy farm in rural Connecticut to the Greenwich Village of the mid-1960s. Lady has always been a shining figure to Fin, who was too young to understand the falling-out she had with their father. Now, Fin and Lady form an unconventional family, set against a tumultuous political and social climate. At times the novel has echoes of “Auntie Mame;” at others, Dawn Powell. The narrator’s voice is used so sparingly as to intrude when it is used, and the reader gets ahead of the story in figuring out who this shadowy figure is in the tale. The bond between Fin and Lady is strong, but the story itself breaks little new ground and doesn’t reveal anything new about the era or the longings of those experiencing it. Schine writes lively dialogue and excels at sensory detail, especially early on, before the plot becomes predictable, as the novel wavers precariously between satiric comedy-of-manners and something more serious.”

“In her newest, about a young boy raised by his madcap half-sister, Schine … joins the spate of recent authors attempting to capture the zeitgeist of the 1960s. In 1964, after 11-year-old Fin’s mother dies, he leaves the Connecticut farm where he’s lived since his father’s death to live in Manhattan with his new guardian, his father’s daughter from his first marriage. Although she is Fin’s only living relative, the last time they were together was six years earlier, when he went with his parents to Capri, where Lady had run away to avoid a socially acceptable marriage. Now 24, Lady is a mix of Auntie Mame and Holly Golightly–beautiful, effervescent and emotionally wounded. Whether carefree or careless, she is luckily extremely rich. She moves Fin into a hip but far from shabby Greenwich Village brownstone and enrolls him in a progressive school without desks or grading. She throws wild parties, drives a convertible, roots for the Mets and dabbles in leftist politics… Loved by … three men, she’s unable to love anyone except Fin and their black housekeeper, Mable, a character who defies conventional stereotypes and thus personifies the upheavals in the decade’s civil rights movement. …Schine offers up a bittersweet lemon soufflé of family love and romantic passion,” says Kirkus Reviews.

Library Journal says: “The tale of an unprepared relative thrust into parenting a newly orphaned child usually takes a comedic bent and wraps up with a newfound romance and emotional maturity. Eleven-year-old Fin and his stepsister Lady twist that arc. They haven’t seen each other in six years, not since Fin accompanied his parents to Europe to pull a runaway Lady back home. Lady, unrepentant and defiantly unconventional (though enjoying the ease her family’s wealth provides) is as beautiful as she is unstable. Raising Fin doesn’t help resolve her relationships with a trio of suitors, and Fin finds himself reenacting a European pursuit. Readers whose interest may begin to flag over Fin’s adoration of Lady should hang on for a final plot twist. VERDICT: A good summer read for those who like their family dramas with more bite than sweetness.”

When is it available?

“Fin & Lady” is on the shelves now at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Mark Twain branch.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Comments are closed.