Friday, June 01, 2007

My Latest Grievance by Elinor Lipman

Elinor Lipman writes really well about human relationships, especially male/female ones. Many of her books could be called intelligent romance novels because they feature "girl meets boy" scenarios that are quirky, original, and sexy (Isabel's Bed, The Inn at Lake Devine, The Way Men Act). But she also writes well about families: mother-daughter relationships (Then She Found Me), sibling relationships (The Ladies' Man). This book doesn’t fit neatly into any of these categories.

My Latest Grievance unfolds from the point of view of 16-year-old Frederica, a girl who seems (to me) to be inordinately interested in the lives of her parents and the adults around her. Raised on a college campus because her faculty parents are dorm parents, Frederica has a unique window into the lives of the other faculty members and the administration. She uses this window to follow an affair between another dorm parent and the college president, which results in the disintegration of the president's marriage.

Let me count the ways this book didn't work for me:

1. I never heard of a 16-yr-old who cared so much about which middle-aged woman was sleeping with which middle-aged man. Teenagers are self-absorbed, or at most, are absorbed with the relationships within their own circle. Affairs among adults are gross and are best ignored. I just didn't buy Frederica’s fascination with all the shenanigans.

2. Filtering the affair (which could have been interesting) through the eyes of Frederica removed it to a far enough distance from the reader that the impact was deadened. I might have been interested to read the POV of the college president, and why he was so attracted to this other woman that he risked his marriage and career, but we get none of this. We only get Frederica's viewpoint, which is mostly gossip and speculation.

3. Most of the characters were annoying. Frederica's parents are weird. Lipman does a good job of developing them and their off-putting personalities, but I didn't really like reading about them. Frederica herself is a smart-aleck. The “other woman” is dippy. The president is predatory. The abandoned wife is pathetic.

4. Lipman adds a bizarre complication to the plot: the "other woman" used to be married to Frederica's father. This adds to Frederica's fascination with the whole thing. But why? Isn't that just another level of yuckiness?

Blech. What a disappointment. In truth, I'm getting a little worried about MY relationship with Elinor Lipman. I really didn't like her last two offerings before this, either. The Pursuit of Alice Thrift annoyed me because I didn't like Alice Thrift, who was some kind of idiot savant.. The one before that, The Dearly Departed? I can't remember a thing about it, though I know I must have read it. Not a good sign.

Ms. Lipman, please, a good romance. Give us what we want!

(Book 22, 2007)

7 comments:

Bybee said...

I actually knew a teenager once who was overly interested in parent's affairs, and I remember thinking, how weird, how unusual. Thanks for the review; I'll skip this one.

Susan Balée said...

Hey, Becky-- It's driving me crazy, but perhaps you can remember: There was a really good novel a few years ago told from the point of view of the son of a woman having an affair. The son managed to access her e-mail, so he watched it unfolding. He was a sensitive teenager and he and his parents were musicians and folk dancers (I remember long scenes about Morris dancing). *That* was a really good novel, but the kid had a reason for the spying he was doing.

Okay, some googling turned it up: "Disobedience" by Jane Hamilton. Know the book? Very well written, absorbing, believable.

Becky said...

Susan, someone gave me Disobedience a while ago but I haven't read it. I was a little bit wary, given the description on the blurb. But if you say it was good, I am more likely to try it. Thanks!

zia said...

Me! Me! I think I remember Disobedience -- was this the one that his sister was really into Civil War reenactments?

On E.L. it's funny because I thought, oh I like her, I must read this. Then I realized I had already read it. It wasn't one of her best.

Susan Balée said...

Yes -- the Civil War reenactments. I forgot that; the brother had this quirky little sister too. And a girl he loved who was also unusual.

If that wasn't one of her best, I must definitely try some other Jane Hamilton novels. I believe she wrote "A Map of the World," no? (Not to be confused with David Hare's play of the same name.)

Susan Balée said...

Duh. Zia you meant "not one of ELINOR LIPMAN's best." I need some more coffee. 'Scusi.

zia said...

Susan, I read map of the world and a couple other Jane Hamilton novels and didn't really like them all that well. I didn't think this one was all that great, but funnily enough, I read it several years ago, and still remember it. So that must say somethng, right?

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