One Sunday Morning: A Novel
by Amy Ephron
Thoroughly Modern Amy
A review by Georgie Lewis
One Sunday Morning is a slip of a book, elegantly packaged and as
pleasurable to drink in on a summer afternoon as a lemony Tanqueray and tonic.
Set in the Jazz age in prohibition-era New York and then moving on to France,
the story is pinned on a deceptively simple premise. Four women at a bridge party
see the beautiful unmarried Lizzie Carswell leaving a hotel with Billy Holmes,
who is engaged to marry their good friend Clara Hart. Assumptions are made, along
with promises not to mention it again. While no one admits to it, word does get
out and Lizzie is spurned at the opera the next evening. Added to this stage-piece
of manners is a sudden death; a young man is found dead in the river -- is it
someone they know?
As you would expect with these shades of Fitzgerald
and Wharton, appearances will be deceiving, and the consequences of being socially
ostracized inevitably bitter. (Ephron would be the first to admit her influences;
it is The Great
Gatsby that Mary Bell reads on her ocean voyage to France, while France was
the country in which Wharton chose to live most of her adult life.) But while
the novel has a moral message of sorts, and certainly not a happy ending, it also
provides intrigue and a genuine sense of suspense.
It says something about
Ephron's elegant style that One Sunday Morning has a breeziness and understated
impact which belies its quiet truth. Standing at 213 small pages (chapters are
only couple of pages long and the book has large margins) One Sunday Morning
can be virtually inhaled in a few hours. Its prose is light as air, silkily transparent
like the wispy chiffon of the flapper's dresses. Look closer, however, and you
shall see there is a lot going on for its brevity. Ephron is only revealing as
much as she has to while still producing a compelling storyline.
short passage, where Ephron captures the details of a fashionable twenties wardrobe
while deftly revealing something of the emotional nature of these young women
She wasn't pretty. No, no one would ever say that she
was pretty. But she was striking and Billy's taste, because they all assumed that
it was Billy who picked her clothes, was impeccable. Billy was drinking scotch
even though it was four in the afternoon, and Clara was nursing a gin and tonic.
She had a Piaget watch on her right wrist that Billy had picked up for her at
an antique store. It had a simple black band and a plain gold rim around its face
so that the numbers themselves were the set-piece, distinctly Piaget. Billy's
suit was appropriately wrinkled. It occurred to Mary that they fit into Paris
in a way she never would.
This is my first foray into Amy Ephron
territory, and it was a lovely, quiet experience, thoroughly engrossing and a
few hours well spent. I must admit that I'm now itching to go back and reread
some of Ephron's literary forebears now -- Maugham, Forster, and the aforementioned
Wharton and Fitzgerald -- for a somewhat fuller or longer story, for I did find
myself slightly dissatisfied with the somewhat hasty close. The entwined plotlines
were indeed resolved but I thought there were a couple of characters and subplots
which were underused.
However, Ephron is a skilled and graceful writer
and if I am critical here it is for want of more from her. She has a delicacy
of touch and a restraint which I find so satisfying to read. One character muses
the following at the end of a love affair:
She was popular.
But part of why she was popular was because she was available, sometimes an afterthought
or a stand-in. She had to admit, she'd had a fantasy. And the fantasy went like
this, that someone would love her and she would be the one who was giving the
Beautiful moments like this are found frequently here.