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So Long at the Fair
Synopses & Reviews
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 Jons 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 togetherand 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 Schwarzs dazzling new novel, So Long at the Fair.
"Fans of Schwarz's Oprah Book Club selection Drowning Ruth are likely to be disappointed by this convoluted novel about loyalty, love and obsession. Jon and Ginny Kepilkowski, high school sweethearts who were pushed into marriage by a freak accident, come to a crossroads when Jon, after an argument with Ginny, decamps to spend the day with mistress Freddi. Ginny, meanwhile, meets clients for her landscaping business, one of whom, Walter Fleischer, is part of a long-ago family conflict that is weakly developed in flashbacks to the summer of 1963, where Jon and Ginny's parents are embroiled in a perplexing revenge plot against Walter over lust gone wrong. Back in the present, Ginny comes close to discovering Jon's infidelity while Jon and Freddi are pursued by Ethan, whose clunkily rendered obsession with Freddi leads to a violent, if poorly presaged, climax. When the novel finally reveals its long-foreshadowed secrets, their import remains frustratingly unclear. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Christina Schwarz's new novel takes place over the course of a single day, during "the sheer bullying green push" of a contemporary Wisconsin summer. What a great phrase, and how eagerly the reader tags along behind it, hoping for more. It's far from an unreasonable expectation: Both of Schwarz's previous novels, "Drowning Ruth" — an Oprah's Book Club pick in 2000 — and "All Is Vanity," were stylish... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) and absorbing entertainments. This time, as she did in "Drowning Ruth," Schwarz improvises on the theme of family secrets while toggling between several time periods. In Madison, Wis., on an ordinary summer Saturday in 2003, Jon Kepilkowski, an ad agency art director in his mid-30s, is trying to decide whether to abandon his marriage to his high-school sweetheart and move in with the pretty young co-worker he's been furtively seeing. Meanwhile, Jon's wife, Ginny, has secrets of her own. She's a successful landscape architect who recently was hired to redevelop the grounds of a neglected golf course in the small Wisconsin town where she and Jon grew up. But Ginny has told Jon nothing about this new project, because the golf course owner, a 60-ish gent named Walter Fleischer, happens to be responsible for ruining Jon's family. How? We find out through a series of flashbacks to 1963, when Walter, along with Jon's and Ginny's parents, became involved in a scandal that had long-standing consequences. Jon's father, Bud, was a promising young golf star whose pregnant wife, Marie, lured him into a plan to avenge the honor of her best friend, Hattie. Hattie claimed to have been raped by Walter, the son of Bud's wealthy golfing patron, while Walter maintained that his dalliance with Hattie was consensual. Bud's involvement turned out to be disastrous, leading to a lifetime of career disappointments and domestic unhappiness for which he always blamed the Fleischers. While Hattie went on to marry a former boyfriend and give birth to Ginny, her family's association with the Fleischers continued uncomfortably over the years as well. I wish I could insist that these domestic dramas — Bud's long-ago imbroglio and Jon's contemporary marital turmoil — merge artfully to expose the secret hearts of both father and son, but it is my glum duty to report that they do not. They read instead like the blueprints for two separate novels, each of whose characters remain too vague to be engaging. It's nearly impossible, for instance, to find a foothold in Jon's story. As soon as Schwarz begins to consider Jon, whose thwarted goal has been "to be a good man, one with a respectable job and responsibilities, a man, in other words, entirely unlike his father," her attention veers over to Ginny, who suffered a tragic accident during her high-school years for which Jon may or may not have been responsible. Then we're off to inspect the character of Freddi, Jon's mistress, who believes she deserves Jon's undivided devotion without bearing any responsibility for ending his marriage. In a subplot that collides jarringly with the main action, Freddi is stalked by an obsessive-compulsive lawyer who has misinterpreted her offhand politeness as signs of romantic interest. In the flashbacks, the older characters and their preoccupations are even more diffuse. Instead of real people, Bud, Marie and Hattie seem more like specimens preserved in a cloudy chemical solution. Their dialogue is viscous (Marie to Bud: "That you can't see that Walt Fleischer is a snake and a criminal, a rapist criminal ... Well, it's just pitiful"), and the momentousness of their behavior drains away during every awkward splice between past and present. While Schwarz's earlier novels had little in common — the first was a historical thriller, while the second was a modern urban satire — they shared a deliberately stylized atmosphere. This time, in trying for a more casual realism, Schwarz may have gone too far the other way, toward unintended banality. Certainly there ought to be a more convincing way to describe Jon's passion for Freddi than this musty observation: "She was like sugar, like nicotine; the more he got, the more he wanted." Worse, Schwarz tells us that Freddi "had a real way with words and a feel for what would grab a client," that she and Jon "were great at riffing off each other ... until every word, every gesture made her weep with hilarity." Yet the author supplies little during these characters' actual conversations ("You're never going to feel good about this! I don't feel good! She's not going to feel good! You're not supposed to feel good!") to demonstrate that verbal felicity. The show-and-tell blunders, the competing double narrative with its disjointed transitions, the skittish lack of focus: All these distractions direct the reader away from realism toward a chaotic elusiveness. It's difficult to say why a serious literary artist has allowed her material to overwhelm her so completely. At the same time, it's easy to imagine that she'll recover. Perhaps the wisest counsel she could receive comes from her own flawed novel, in a truism kicked around frequently by Jon and his ad agency colleagues: "To tell a good lie, you had to believe it yourself." Reviewed by Donna Rifkind, who reviews regularly for The Washington Post Book World, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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The bestselling author of "Drowning Ruth" returns to the small-town Wisconsin she has so brilliantly evoked, with this gripping novel about love, marriage, and adultery.
About the Author
CHRISTINA SCHWARZ is the author of the critically acclaimed All Is Vanity and Drowning Ruth, a #1 bestseller in both hardcover and paperback, which was selected for Oprahs Book Club and optioned by Wes Craven for Miramax.
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