Evenings at Fiveby Gail Godwin
Every evening at five o’clock, Christina and Rudy stopped work and began the ritual commonly known as Happy Hour. Rudy mixed Christina’s drink with loving precision, the cavalier slosh of Bombay Sapphire over ice shards, before settling across from her in his Stickley chair with his glass of Scotch. They shared a love of language and music (she is an author, he a composer, after all), a delight in intense conversation, a fascination with popes, and nearly thirty years of life together.
What did I think, that we had forever? muses Christina, seven months after Rudy’s unexpected death. While coming to terms with her loss, with the space that Rudy once inhabited, Christina reflects on their vibrant bond—with all its quirks, habits, and unguarded moments—as well as her passionate sorrow and her attempts to reposition herself and her new place in the very real world they shared.
In this literary jewel, a bittersweet novella of absence and presence and the mysterious gap between them, Gail Godwin has performed a small miracle. In essence, Evenings at Five is a grief sonata for solo instrument transposed into words. Interwoven with meditations and movements, full of aching truths and a wicked sense of humor, it exquisitely captures the cyclical nature of commitment—and the eternal quality of a romance completed.
“With words alone, Gail Godwin has created an important piece of music about a love which death can only increase and deepen. Yes, and Frances Halsband’s illustrations are a haunting countermelody.”
“Evenings at Five reads like a novel, but it’s a fictionalization of a real event. Gail Godwin uses all the weapons of art to deal with her own all-too-real grief, and the result is a rigorous exercise in restraint, control, irony, memory.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“A LITTLE MASTERPIECE . . .
DEXTEROUS, STRONGLY FELT, MULTI-LEVEL WRITING.”
“[A] heartrending book . . . Brilliantly webbed scenes fill its pages . . . Godwin writes with enormous clarity and unvarnished prose. She writes, in other words, not to approach the truth but to forcefully ascertain it.”
“Possibly her truest book . . . There is a quiet dignity here that pulls you into the two people’s lives. . . . Full of wicked humor and sage and subtle advice, laced with achingly familiar refrains of love and loss, Evenings at Five could well restore a bereaved man’s or woman’s sense of self.”
—The Roanoke Times
“An exquisite portrait of a thirty-year relationship . . . There is a depth and intensity within that many large tomes never capture. . . . Just as Christina ultimately knows she has to move on, one assumes Godwin needed to write Evenings at Five to move on and work on another outstanding novel.”
—South Florida Sun-Sentinel
“QUIRKY, WRY, AND SURPRISINGLY POWERFUL . . .
with a delight in words and the ways people use and abuse them that is typical of this urbane author.”
“If asked to list my ten favorite American fiction writers, Gail Godwin would be among them. In this, her latest . . . she evokes in a short book the long married life of two artists. Evenings at Five is a strong tale of love-after-death.”
“The New York Times bestselling author of Evensong has scored again. . . . The novel, which can be read in one sitting, is an excellent showcase of Godwin’s talent. Those not already Godwin fans are apt to be converted.”
—The Sunday Oklahoman
“Gail Godwin has written a book about the heaviest matters of loss, grief, and loneliness with a touch so light that I was as often deeply amused by it as I was deeply moved.”
“The most balanced heart-rending book you ever read on the nature of loss, loneliness, and grief.”
“INTIMATE AND TOUCHING.”
“A fierce evocation of what—at some time or another—everyone is bound to endure. . . . An amazing little volume that contains an explosive emotional wallop.”
—ROBB FORMAN DEW
“An unflinching account of love, loss, grief, and the struggle toward consolation. It should touch every reader with its emotional power.”
“No one does the nitty-gritty of soul-searching like Gail Godwin. . . . [She] is one of the few contemporary novelists willing to tackle the ticklish (to modern writers) topic of religion in real life. In a novel inspired by her own experience, she does it again, beautifully.”
“Godwin accomplishes more in this smart, arch, and charming little illustrated novel than many of her peers do in far heftier volumes.”
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Five o’clock sharp. “Ponctualité est la politesse des rois”: Rudy quoting his late father, a factory owner (textiles) in Vienna before the Nazis came. The Pope’s phone call, followed by the grinding of the ice, a growling, workmanlike sound, a lot like Rudy’s own sound, compliments of the GE model Rudy had picked out fourteen years ago when they built this house. Gr-runnch, gr-runnch, grr-rr-runnch. (“And look! It even has this tray you pull down to mix the drinks.” Rudy retained the enthusiasms of childhood.) He built Christina’s drink with loving precision after the Pope’s call. Rudy did the high Polish voice, overlaid with an Italian accent: “Thees is John Paul. My cheeldren, eet is cocktail time.”
Or sometimes Christina’s study phone would not ring. Rudy simply emerged from his studio below and called brusquely up to her in his basso profundo: “Hello? The Pope just called. Are you ready for a drink?”
The ominous rolled r’s on the “ready” and “drink”: if you’re not, you’d better be. I won’t be here forever, you know.
The cavalier slosh of Bombay Sapphire (Rudy never measured) over the ice shards. The fssst as he loosened the seltzer cap and added the self-respecting splash that made her able to call it a gin and soda. Then, marching over to the sink: “I need Ralph.” Ralph was their best serrated knife. The thinly cut slice of lime oozed fresh juice. Rudy cut well; he cut his own music paper, and he had been cutting Christina’s hair exactly as she liked it for twenty-eight years. And in summer, a sprig of mint from the garden, a hairy, pungent variety given to them by the wife of a pianist who had recorded Rudy’s music. Sometimes Rudy joined Christina in the gin and soda. Her financial man from Buffalo had given them two twelve-ounce tumblers with old-fashioned ticker tapes etched into the surfaces. She always kept them in the freezer, so they would frost up as soon as they hit the air.
Other times Rudy would say, “I need a Scotch tonight.” That went into a different glass, a lovely cordial shape etched with grapes, given to him by the daughter of a pasha who had invited him to her houseboat parties in Cairo back in ’42 and called him Harpo because his assignment in the Royal Air Force had been playing piano and harp to keep up troop morale. “I need a Scotch tonight” could mean either that his work had gone extremely well or that some unwelcome aspect of reality (his music publisher sending back sloppily edited orchestra parts, being put on hold by his health insurance provider, being put on hold by anyone at all) had undermined his creative momentum.
“Thees is Il Papa calling from the Vatican. Cheeldren, eet is cocktail time.”
Christina was a cradle Episcopalian who had gone to a Catholic school run by a French order of nuns in North Carolina. Rudy was a nonpracticing Jew who had gone to a Catholic Gymnasium in Vienna until age fourteen, when the Nazis came. Rudy always liked to tell how there were two Jews and one Protestant in his class at the Gymnasium, “and the Protestant had the worst of it by far.” So Rudy and Christina shared an affectionate fascination with Popes, especially this one, with his hulking masculine shoulders before they began to stoop, and his nonstop traveling, and all the languages.
What did I think, that we had forever? Christina asked herself, sipping the gin and soda she now made for herself. Often Rudy had interrupted himself in midsentence to explode at her: “You’re not listening!”
What was I listening to? The ups and downs of my own day’s momentum. We were both “ah-tists,” as the real estate lady who sold us our first house pronounced it. She herself had been married to an ah-tist. Her husband’s novel had been runner-up for the Pulitzer, she told us, the year Anthony Adverse won. Her name was Odette, as in Swann’s downfall. Rudy was fifty-two and I was thirty-nine and neither of us knew, until Odette carefully explained it to us, that you could buy a house without having all the money to pay for it up front.
Christina would arrange herself on the black leather sofa they had splurged on in their midlife prosperity (a combined windfall of a bequest from Rudy’s late uncle in Lugano, with whom Rudy had played chess, and a lucrative two-book contract for Christina, in those bygone days when there were enough competing publishers to run up the auction bid) and which the Siamese cats had ruined within six months. She would cross her ankles on the Turkish cushions on top of the burled-wood coffee table and train her myopic gaze on Rudy’s long craggy face and crest of white hair floating reassuringly from his Stickley armchair on the other side of the fireplace. An editor had once told Rudy he looked like “a happy Beckett.” Christina felt rich in her bounty: the workday was over and she had this powerful companion pulsing his attention at her, and her whole drink to go. They raised their cocktail glasses to each other.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
Gail Godwin is the three-time National Book Award nominee and bestselling author of eleven critically acclaimed novels, including A Mother and Two Daughters, Violet Clay, Father Melancholy’s Daughter, Evensong, and The Good Husband. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts grant for fiction and libretto writing, and the Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She has written libretti for ten musical works with the composer Robert Starer. Currently she is writing her twelfth novel, Queen of the Underworld.
Visit her Web site at www.gailgodwin.com.
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What do Pope John Paul, a serrated knife fondly known as Ralph, and a bottle of gin have in common? Artfully, with humor and tenderness, Gail Godwin weaves the Pope, Ralph, and Bombay Sapphire gin into a loving testament. Every evening at five, Rudy builds his wife a drink with loving precision. and announces that 'the Pope has called.' Rudy is a composer and hears music; Christina is a writer lost in a world of words. But somehow, despite their differences, for 28 years their marriage works. When Rudy dies, his formidable presence no longer holds center stage in Christina's life. The gifted linguist and world traveller with a mellifluous voice 'one octave below God's' is gone. Stripped of his presence, Christina is reduced to drinking her gin alone and conversing with Rudy's chair every evening at five. It's Christina's recollections of Rudy that makes Evenings at Five a standout. She reads his appointment diaries, kept through their years together, reliving the chronicle of his life. She listens to his music, composed one note on top of another until he reached a glorious symmetry - much like their life together. His is a powerful and lingering presence that defies death. Christina's memories are a delightful read, despite the sobering subject. Ms. Godwin's skill as best selling wordsmith proves itself once again in this latest book. Evenings at Five transcends death and loss, guiding each reader to an individual finale.
I really enjoyed Evensong and Father Melancholy's Daughter, but this left me pretty cold. Funny, as I am a recent widow. It just didn't 'grab me.' Or perhaps it was too painful. I didn't know when I picked it up that Ms. Godwin's own partner had died in 2001.