While not hot off the presses, this 2011 novel by Isabel Wolff has a little bit of everything that keeps it fresh. Part “contemporary women’s fiction” as a friend recently said (I love the dressing up of “chic lit,” as though the industry got tired of it’s sweatpants and needed to legitimize itself a little more, but nonetheless…) Part history lesson, part Vogue editorial, it is a wonderful novel. When reading the reviews on the back of the book, you can’t help but put it in your library pile for check out. It really is a feel good story you don’t want to put down. I read it in two days, and that’s only because I had to go to work. The characters are likeable, the story is incredibly endearing, and the “scenery” of the main character’s vintage clothing store is irresistible. She grates a touch on the guilt over a friendship, but that is easily overlooked, as the rest of the story keeps moving steadily enough.
A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff
Instead of playing the part of two single thirty-somethings as predicted, what if two strangers at a wedding got to know one another through written letters.
Breathless in a coat closet, John and Jane decide to do just that. Instead of adding another social mis-step to each’s already sordid past, they agree to hash it all out. Get to know each other. Not through banal conversations over safe dinners, but through letters. Confessions, more specifically. Familiarity through mistakes. John and Jane agree to recount all their past; good, bad, ugly – the “greatest hits’ of a love life. The letters only make sense with their distance; John living in New York City and Jane in Philadelphia.
John’s letters, written by Steve Almond, are honest and funny, and beautifully written. A sense of awe that a man could put these thoughts to paper, and jealousy that he is not in your life; even if he is fictional. Jane’s letters are written by Julianna Baggott – Jane is humorous, but can be a little harsh at times – such is the price with a woman who will speak her mind, truthfully if not always tactfully.
This book is what fabulous writing is about. Realistic, it leaves you cheering for these two less-than-ordinary, remarkable individuals. Hoping everything will work out right for them in the end. The story leaves a pleasant little smile on the face of the reader who knows they themselves are not commonplace, and excited for the possibilities that could mean.
Which Brings Me To You: A Novel in Confessions by Steve Almond and Julianna Baggott
In the years between 1991 and 2006, Hannah Gavener does something kind of extraordinary. She grows up. She does not always take the easy route, though not always on purpose. She is an awkward teenager living with her Aunt after her father throws the whole family out. Hannah is a college student – bookish, solitary. She dabbles at trying to be like everyone else, but with the running dialogue in her mind, somehow she knows this isn’t true. Hannah, like many, is a lot of things during her life. Alongside is her family, pushing and pulling throughout the story – there is her Mother, plodding along after a rocky marriage; her sister, the one with the heart of gold. Aunt Elizabeth, a hippy living out a quaint life with her husband and son. Cousin Fig, a fierce bombshell taking on the world. There are others in between who, as in any life, help to shape and mold Hannah.
Readers may get a little frustrated with Hannah’s propensity for shyness and self-defeat, but she is always honest about her feelings; which is more than a lot of folks can say. Will it all work out for Hannah? And really, what does ‘work out’ even mean? For Hannah, she just wants to be happy. Read on, and see how she does.
Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfield