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Good-Bye and Amenby Beth Gutcheon
Synopses & Reviews
Beth Gutcheon's critically acclaimed family saga, Leeway Cottage, was a major achievement: a vivid and moving tale of war and marriage and their consequences that enchanted readers. Good-bye and Amen is the next chapter for the family of Leeway Cottage, the story of what happens when those most powerful people in any family drama, the parents, have left the stage.
The complicated marriage of the gifted Danish pianist Laurus Moss to the provincial American child of privilege Sydney Brant was a mystery to many who knew them, including their three children. Now, Eleanor, Monica, and Jimmy Moss have to decide how to divide or share what Laurus and Sydney have left them without losing one another.
Secure and cheerful Eleanor, the oldest, wants little for herself but much for her children. Monica, the least-loved middle child, brings her youthful scars to the table, as well as the baggage of a difficult marriage to the charismatic Norman, who left a brilliant legal career, though not his ambition, to become an Episcopal priest. Youngest and best-loved Jimmy, who made a train wreck of his young adulthood, has returned after a long period of alienation from the family surprisingly intact, but extremely hard for his sisters to read.
Having lived through childhoods both materially blessed and emotionally difficult, with a father who could seem uninvolved and a mother who loved a good family game of “let's you and him fight,” the Mosses have formed strong adult bonds that none of them wants to damage. But it's difficult to divide a beloved summer house three ways and keep it too. They all know what's at stake—in a world of atomized families, a house like Leeway Cottage can be the glue that keeps generations of cousins and grandchildren deeply connected to one another. But knowing it's important doesn't make it easy.
"Gutcheon concludes the Moss family saga that began with Leeway Cottage in a disappointing fashion. Laurus and Sydney Brant Moss have died, and it's up to their three children, Eleanor, Monica and Jimmy, to divide up the estate. Naturally, the process exposes old frictions and creates new ones while sparking reminiscences of their lives, notably concerning their difficult relationships with their prickly mother, who hid venom beneath a veneer of social graciousness. The narration is many-voiced; the siblings, their spouses and children, their friends and neighbors, and even the dead contribute to the storytelling. While the points-of-view of the living are maddeningly self-involved, the dead really seem to understand what's going on. The effect is both tragic and mildly amusing, but gradually, it becomes difficult to feel for the characters. Though the novel is beautifully written, the narrative becomes frustrating and claustrophobic repetitive as it wears on." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Men, if you're in a hurry, you can save some time and stop reading this review now. This is unabashedly a women's novel, and it doesn't even have any sex in it. There's some stuff you might like about sailboats, but the male characters are second leads except for one husband who turns out to be a dastardly swine. So why trouble yourselves? This is not just about women; it's about... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) things women are primarily interested in. Which kids do parents love the most? Who gets the good china and the piano when those parents die? Which kids grow up to make good marriages (and what is a good marriage anyway)? Which spouses fit into the family, and which don't? Who is the family's everlasting pill, and who is its hero? Is it a good idea to throw a huge surprise party for someone who — as any thinking person can see — isn't going to like it? Who threw out all the family's good goose-down pillows? Do ghosts exist, and should their opinions be listened to? And, most of all, who in the family feels most left out, least loved, and why? "Good-Bye and Amen" is the last of a trilogy that includes "More Than You Know" and "Leeway Cottage." Beth Gutcheon's three-generational saga began with the story of the tempestuous marriage of Laurus (he's the guy) and Sydney Moss (she's the girl). Their domestic drama was played out against a beautiful old Victorian summer house in the town of Dundee, Maine. Laurus is remembered by his children as a kind and loving father, but the consensus about Sydney is that she was a b-word on wheels who pitched fits for exercise, bullied the vulnerable and cringed abjectly before the strong. Never mind. Laurus and Sydney are dead now, and their three grown children have gathered to divide their inheritance: relics of a long and complex past. Eleanor, the oldest, married while she was still in college. She's a traditional stay-at-home wife with four children. Her husband has done very well, and he's the right sort of person. Jimmy, the youngest, gave every indication of being the proverbial black sheep when he was growing up. He stayed up late and got into scrapes and did every drug and had a strong aversion to work. He asked his parents early on for his share of the inheritance so that he would never have to see them again. (He later reconciled with his father.) Jimmy fooled them all by moving to the West Coast and making a fortune in video games. He's married now, to Josslyn, a strong contender for the family pill trophy, who wears her hair long and straight in the California style and uses the word "like" in inappropriate ways. She's the one who throws out all the pillows and replaces them with foam. Then there's Monica, a classic middle child, her mother's un-favorite. Monica's feelings are easily hurt, and her taste in men is flawed. She's married to Norman Faithful, strikingly handsome, an ex-child-evangelist healer, now a Protestant minister who left a perfectly good wife and pair of children to marry Monica, presumably because of her station in life and the prospect of her inheritance. (But Laurus and Sydney left almost no money at all; they lived extremely well.) The reader is tipped off early to Norman's creepy ways. He's by nature a thief and a sociopath, though he himself may not even be aware of it. (Since the characters take turns telling the story in the first person, readers can know only what they tell us.) Sydney, controlling from the grave, has worked out an elaborate lottery, where each grown child may pick his or her favorite thing in turn until everything is spoken for. Jimmy, for reasons that make perfect sense later in the narrative, picks the piano. Except that Monica has always loved that piano! She's the one who wants and needs it. The picking process goes downhill from there. We are informed about the family past in fits and starts (including pictures from an actual family photograph album). We don't have to know much about Eleanor. She's happy; there's no real story in that. (There is one surprise, though.) We learn how Jimmy acquired the wisdom he has today. It seems to have come mostly from drugs. And we learn how Monica unwittingly got caught up with an unregenerate jerk. The real question in the novel is: Who will inherit the lovely, magical summer house in Maine? Despite conflicts, it's been the scene of a mostly idyllic family life. They all own a share of it, but it becomes obvious that, with their extended families, they can't all live under its roof together. Who will be the recipient of all that accumulated love? We can guess what's going to happen from the contours of the story, just as in the tale of the three pigs (one is too big, one too small and one is just right). But as with all summer trips, getting there is half the fun. Reviewed by Carolyn See, who can may be reached at www.carolynsee.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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About the Author
Beth Gutcheon is the critically acclaimed author of eight previous novels: The New Girls, Still Missing, Domestic Pleasures, Saying Grace, Five Fortunes, More Than You Know, Leeway Cottage, and Good-bye and Amen. She is the writer of several film scripts, including the Academy-Award nominee The Children of Theatre Street. She lives in New York City.
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