Thursday, July 31, 2008

Guest Review: So Long at the Fair

It's always a pleasure to read one of Melissa's reviews, and her review of SO LONG AT THE FAIR by Christina Schwarz is no exception. I read Ms. Schwarz's DROWNING RUTH and ALL IS VANITY awhile back and thoroughly enjoyed the books as well as her writing style. I look forward to reading SO LONG AT THE FAIR in the very near future.

Summary: The bestselling author of Drowning Ruth returns to the small-town Wisconsin she so brilliantly evoked with this gripping novel about love, marriage, and adultery.

In the summer of 1963 a plot for revenge destroys a career, a friendship, and a family. The consequences of the scandalous event continue to reverberate, touching the next generation. Thirty years later, over the course of one day, Jon struggles to decide whether to end his affair or his marriage. His wife, Ginny, moving closer to discovering his adultery, begins working for an older man who is mysteriously connected to their families’ pasts. And Jon’s mistress is being courted by a suitor who may be more menacing than he initially seems. As relationships among the characters ebb and flow on that July day, Christina Schwarz illuminates the ties that bind people together—and the surprising risks they take in the name of love.

As in Drowning Ruth, Schwarz weaves past and present into a richly textured portrait of the secrets and deceptions that simmer beneath everyday life in a small midwestern town. With page-turning intensity and in prose at once lush and precise, she beautifully conjures the emotional labyrinth of a marriage on the brink of collapse and proves that no matter how hard we work to stifle them, the secrets of the past refuse to be ignored.

Betrayal versus loyalty . . . lust versus love . . . infidelity versus honor. Welcome to the complex web of Christina Schwarz’s dazzling new novel, So Long at the Fair. -- Random House

As the summary indicates, the author has an awful lot of plot twists to pack into a 244 page book, but she manages to pull it off beautifully. Schwarz details one tumultuous and life-altering day of a seemingly ordinary married couple, Jon and Ginny, while seamlessly weaving in flashbacks to events that occurred more than 30 years in the past. I thought that this book was extremely well written. The characters literally jumped out of the pages at me, coming to life and enveloping me in their riveting story.

Whenever I read a book that includes a cheating husband or wife, I tend to feel little or no sympathy for that character. Strangely enough, I found myself empathizing with Jon’s emotional struggle as he faced the realization that he must decide between his wife and mistress. Schwarz’ vivid character portrayals added a complexity to an issue which is usually pretty straightforward to me, making it more than a simple choice between love versus lust and wrong versus right.

As the layers of Jon and Ginny’s relationship are peeled back to expose hidden and repressed feelings of guilt for past mistakes and thoughts left unsaid, it was both easy and painful to identify with the misunderstandings, pressures and burdens that can affect even the healthiest of marriages. I really felt my tension building as the events of the day played out bringing Ginny and Jon closer to an inevitable confrontation. And as the story illustrates, even long-held and deeply buried secrets have a way of surfacing when least expected.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone. And because I liked Schwarz’ style so much, I definitely look forward to picking up a copy of her first novel, DROWNING RUTH to add to my summer reading list.

A huge thanks goes out to Melissa for helping with my huge TBR pile! (The only "problem" is that I still desperately want to read the books that she has reviewed, especially this one.) I think SO LONG AT THE FAIR sounds like a terrific book for your next book club discussion -- the reading guide can be found here.

1 comment:

Anna said...

I loved "Drowning Ruth." Thanks for this review. I'll definitely check it out. I, too, tend not to sympathize with characters guilty of adultery, so I think seeing how that plays out would be interesting.

--Anna (Diary of an Eccentric)