Fin & Lady

Fin & Lady

3.7 68
by Cathleen Schine

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From the author of The Three Weissmanns of Westport, a wise, clever story of New York in the ’60s

It’s 1964. Eleven-year-old Fin and his glamorous, worldly, older half sister, Lady, have just been orphaned, and Lady, whom Fin hasn’t seen in six years, is now his legal guardian and his only hope. That means Fin is uprooted from a small

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From the author of The Three Weissmanns of Westport, a wise, clever story of New York in the ’60s

It’s 1964. Eleven-year-old Fin and his glamorous, worldly, older half sister, Lady, have just been orphaned, and Lady, whom Fin hasn’t seen in six years, is now his legal guardian and his only hope. That means Fin is uprooted from a small dairy farm in rural Connecticut to Greenwich Village, smack in the middle of the swinging ’60s. He soon learns that Lady—giddy, careless, urgent, and obsessed with being free—is as much his responsibility as he is hers.

     So begins Fin & Lady, the lively, spirited new novel by Cathleen Schine, the author of the bestselling The Three Weissmanns of Westport. Fin and Lady lead their lives against the background of the ’60s, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam War—Lady pursued by ardent, dogged suitors, Fin determined to protect his impulsive sister from them and from herself.

     From a writer The New York Times has praised as “sparkling, crisp, clever, deft, hilarious, and deeply affecting,” Fin & Lady is a comic, romantic love story: the story of a brother and sister who must form their own unconventional family in increasingly unconventional times.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Wendy Smith
Wonderfully funny though they often are, Cathleen Schine's novels are steeped in sadness…Schine knows that laughter isn't just an escape from life's sorrows, but also a recognition of them…[Fin & Lady] is, in essence, a novel about the choices we make in creating a family and about the inevitable limits of freedom…There are good wisecracks in the Capri chapters, but Schine's wit is muted in favor of unabashed sentiment…her sincerity here suits both her protagonists' youth and the impassioned era of their joint odyssey. The 1960s seem a less than ideal setting for a comedy of manners, and indeed this is not really a comedy. But Schine conveys the rapidly shifting mores of the '60s, as well as the slowly unfolding understanding of these appealingly vulnerable characters.
The New York Times Book Review - Christopher Benfey
…[a] bittersweet elegy for Greenwich Village in the 1960s…Schine…is aware of how much of this terrain—the available heiress, the domineering father, the three suitors, the orphaned boy, the enchanted island, even the disgruntled maid—is familiar. But, like comic writers before her from Shakespeare to Jane Austen and Evelyn Waugh, she skillfully plays with the conventions and the reader's expectations…[a] wise and wistful comic novel…
Publishers Weekly
Schine’s new novel (after Alice in Bed) is an entertaining, sometimes perplexing exploration of family bonds and bondage. When Fin is orphaned at the age of 11, Lady, his half-sister, takes him in, pulling him away from the dairy farm in rural Connecticut to the Greenwich Village of the mid-1960s. Lady has always been a shining figure to Fin, who was too young to understand the falling-out she had with their father. Now, Fin and Lady form an unconventional family, set against a tumultuous political and social climate. At times the novel has echoes of Auntie Mame; at others, Dawn Powell. The narrator’s voice is used so sparingly as to intrude when it is used, and the reader gets ahead of the story in figuring out who this shadowy figure is in the tale. The bond between Fin and Lady is strong, but the story itself breaks little new ground and doesn’t reveal anything new about the era or the longings of those experiencing it. Schine writes lively dialogue and excels at sensory detail, especially early on, before the plot becomes predictable, as the novel wavers precariously between satiric comedy-of-manners and something more serious. Agent: Molly Friedrich, Friedrich Agency. (July)
Kirkus Reviews
In her newest, about a young boy raised by his madcap half sister, Schine (The Three Wiessmanns of Westport, 2010, etc.) joins the spate of recent authors attempting to capture the zeitgeist of the 1960s. In 1964, after 11-year-old Fin's mother dies, he leaves the Connecticut farm where he's lived since his father's death to live in Manhattan with his new guardian, his father's daughter from his first marriage. Although she is Fin's only living relative, the last time they were together was six years earlier, when he went with his parents to Capri, where Lady had run away to avoid a socially acceptable marriage. Now 24, Lady is a mix of Auntie Mame and Holly Golightly--beautiful, effervescent and emotionally wounded. Whether carefree or careless, she is luckily extremely rich. She moves Fin into a hip but far from shabby Greenwich Village brownstone and enrolls him in a progressive school without desks or grading. She throws wild parties, drives a convertible, roots for the Mets and dabbles in leftist politics. She also puts Fin in charge of finding her a suitable husband. She has three suitors: Tyler, the fiance she jilted at the altar as a pregnant 18-year-old, has become the still besotted if bitter lawyer in charge of Fin's financial estate; handsome, not-too-bright jock Jack's appeal lies in his preppy shallowness; then there is Fin's choice, Biffi, a Hungarian Jew who survived World War II to become an art dealer of genuine kindness and wit. But the deep-seated sorrow peaking up through Biffi's charm scares Lady off. Loved by all three men, she's unable to love anyone except Fin and their black housekeeper, Mable, a character who defies conventional stereotypes and thus personifies the upheavals in the decade's civil rights movement. Then she returns to Capri and discovers the joy and danger of being in love herself. Schine offers up a bittersweet lemon soufflé of family love and romantic passion.
The New Yorker

An exuberant, tender novel...the prose is zippy and sweet.
The New York Times Book Review

[Like] writers before her, from Shakespeare to Jane Austen and Evelyn Waugh, Schine skillfully plays with the conventions and the reader's expectations....A wise and wistful comic novel.
The New York Review of Books on The Three Weissmanns of Westport

Full of invention, wit, and wisdom that can bear comparison to Austen's own.
The New Yorker on The Three Weissmanns of Westport

A clever, frothy novel...Schine playfully probes the lies, self-deceptions, and honorable hearts of her characters.

Cathleen Schine can always be counted on for an enticing, smart read.
People Caroline Leavitt

Schine's writing sparkles, and her finale proves as unexpected and luminous as love itself.
The Oprah Magazine O

An utterly believable fictional world...It may well break your heart with joy.
Library Journal
The tale of an unprepared relative thrust into parenting a newly orphaned child usually takes a comedic bent and wraps up with a newfound romance and emotional maturity. Eleven-year-old Fin and his stepsister Lady twist that arc. They haven't seen each other in six years, not since Fin accompanied his parents to Europe to pull a runaway Lady back home. Lady, unrepentant and defiantly unconventional (though enjoying the ease her family's wealth provides) is as beautiful as she is unstable. Raising Fin doesn't help resolve her relationships with a trio of suitors, and Fin finds himself reenacting a European pursuit. Readers whose interest may begin to flag over Fin's adoration of Lady should hang on for a final plot twist. VERDICT A good summer read for those who like their family dramas with more bite than sweetness. [See Prepub Alert, 1/25/13.]—Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll. Lib., NC

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

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Fin & Lady

By Cathleen Schine

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2013 Cathleen Schine
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-3708-9


"Let's go home"

Fin's funeral suit was a year old, worn three times, already too small.

He knew his mother was sick. He knew she went to the hospital to get treatments. He saw the dark blue lines and dots on her chest.

"My tattoos," she said.

She sang "Popeye the Sailor Man" and raised her skinny arms as if to flex her Popeye muscles, to make him laugh.

He knew she was sick. He knew people died. But he never thought she would die. Not his mother. Not really.

Lady came to the funeral, an unmistakably foreign presence in the bare, white Congregational church: she wore large sunglasses and wept audibly.

Fin's neighbors, the Pounds, who raised big, thick Morgan horses, had been looking after Fin since his mother was taken to the hospital.

"I'm sure your mother knew what she was doing," Mr. Pound said doubtfully when he saw Lady Hadley approach, her arms open wide, a lighted cigarette dangling from her lips.

"I don't think she had much choice, dear," Mrs. Pound whispered to him. "There was no one else, was there?"

"I like Lady," Fin said loyally. But she was terrifying, coming at him like some mad bird with a squawk of "Fratello mio! It's all so dreadful!"

Lady put her arms around him and held him close. She was all he had, as Mrs. Pound had pointed out. All he had. He barely knew her. Unfamiliar arms. A stranger's cheek, wet with tears leaking from beneath her dark glasses. He wanted to cry, too, for so many reasons that they seemed to cancel one another out. He stood there like a statue, nauseated and faint.

The other mourners stared at Lady. Why wouldn't they? She stood out. She vibrated, almost, in that quiet church. She was beautiful. Fin liked her hair, which was long. He liked her teeth. She thought they were too big, but she was wrong. She was like a horse. Not one of the Pounds' heavy Morgan horses with short sturdy necks and thick clomping legs. She was like a racehorse. Jittery. Majestic. Her long neck and long legs — and her face, too. She had a horsey face, in a beautiful way. And bangs, like a forelock. He'd told her that, the last time he'd seen her. He had been five. "You look like a horse," he'd said. "Charming," said Lady. "Me and Eleanor Roosevelt." He had not meant that at all. Eleanor Roosevelt, whose picture he'd seen in the newspaper, did not look like a horse. More like his grandmother. Big, sloping breast. Important face. He meant that Lady's eyes were huge and dark, that her cheekbones were high and pronounced, that her face was aristocratic and long, that her hair flew in the wind like a mane, that she was coltish even in her movements of tentative wildness and reckless dignity. He didn't know that he meant all that when he was five. He just knew that she reminded him of a horse. He was eleven now. He had not seen her for six years. She still reminded him of a horse. "A racehorse," he had added when he was five, and Lady had smiled and said, "Oh, that's all right, then."

When the funeral was over, Lady would not allow him to go to the grave site.

"It's barbaric," she said to Mr. and Mrs. Pound.

They looked at her with shocked faces, pinched by hurt at what they, rightly, took to be Lady's dismissal of every aspect of almost two thousand years of religious tradition.

"The kid is hanging on by his eyelids," she said.

"I saw Daddy buried," Fin said. "And Grandma and Grandpa."

"I rest my case," said Lady.

"You're the boss," Mr. Pound said. He heaved a sigh, then he shook Fin's hand and wished him luck in his new life.

Mrs. Pound hugged him and said he'd make his mother proud in heaven, and then he did start to cry and ran outside.

Humiliating, to cry at his age. Babies cried. The Pounds had a baby, a bald sticky one that screamed for no reason, out of the blue. Mrs. Pound would pick it up and hug it. Fin wanted to shake it, although, really, he could not imagine even touching it. It was an obnoxious baby. "I'll give you something to cry about," Fin's father used to say. Then he died. The Pounds' baby had its parents. Stuart was its name. Fin had taken one of its toys and given it to the dog. The baby didn't even notice.

* * *

Lady found him outside, pressed against the side of the church, still crying like Stuart, who didn't even know enough to realize his toy had been stolen.

"Go away," he said.

"Fat chance."

"Leave me alone."

"Come on, pal." She took his hand, gently.

"Just please go away."

He tried to pull his hand back. Lady did not let go. Instead, she gave a violent pull.

"Hey!" he said. "Quit it." She had almost yanked him off his feet.

"See?" she said. "Nothing like a good shock. No more tears! Poof! Just like hiccups."

They walked toward the parking lot. He kept what he hoped was a safe distance. His father had called Lady a loose cannon. Among other things.

"Come on, Finino," she said, reaching out, taking his hand. Her voice was so gentle.

Finino. That's what she'd called him the first time he saw her.

"Come on, Finino," she said again. "Let's go home."

* * *

Lady's car was a turquoise convertible, a Karmann Ghia, and driving in the tiny sports car with the sky above him diverted Fin for the ten-minute trip back to the house.

When they got there, Fin and Lady stood for a moment on the porch.

"Now, Fin," she said, a hand on each shoulder, surveying him, "this has been a tragedy of monstrous proportions."

Monstrous proportions. Fin remembered how much he loved the way Lady spoke. Sometimes she sounded like the ladies in slinky dresses in old movies on TV. Sometimes she sounded like a cowboy. Monstrous proportions. It was a tragedy, it was monstrous, a monster so big he would never get past it.

"So. Of course you'll want a nice bath and then a nap."

"No thank you." He looked down at the worn boards of the porch. They needed paint. He had helped his grandfather paint them just two years ago, holding the brushes mostly, cleaning them with turpentine and a rag.

"No? Really? That's what I do, you know, when tragedy strikes. A nice stiff drink, a soak in the tub, a nap ..."

A stiff drink. That's a good one, Fin thought.

"I'm eleven," he said.

"Ah," she said. "Too old for a nap, too young for a drink. Is that what you're saying?"

He felt shy in front of Lady. She was so vivid. Everything about her. Her dress was inches shorter than any dress he'd ever seen, and though it was a good sober navy blue like his suit, it had incongruous bright white piping along the edges that seemed to be made of plastic. When she smiled, her head tilted back and her teeth emerged, white and straight except for one.

He heard the cows in the distance. They were in the upper pasture. Who would bring them down? Who would milk them?

"What about the cows?" he asked. "I can't just leave them." It was a sweltering day, and he stood in his heavy wool suit on his own porch in the heat, in the dull cushion of sadness he realized he must now carry with him every minute of every day. He wiped his eyes and his nose on his navy wool sleeve, leaving it stained and wet. He imagined the cows, abandoned, bony, and weak. "The cows," he said, looking at Lady. "What about the cows?"

"Is that them? Mooing?" Lady took him by the hand. "Come on, Fin, let's go see what they want. Cows!" she called out. "Oh, cows!"

Fin gave her a sideways glance to see if she was making fun of him, but she looked quite earnest. He led her past the manure pile, through the gate, over the hill in the lower pasture and into the green hills of the upper. The cows were gathered, flicking their tails, beneath a tree, two of them lying down, two standing facing the approaching humans.

Fin patted the two standing cows, Daisy and Darlington. They had been his mother's favorites. Guernseys.

He looked back at Lady, who had kept her distance from the animals. Lady's shoes — flat, not like his mother's high heels, and white — were covered with mud and manure and grass stains.

"You ruined your shoes, I guess," Fin said, a little guiltily.

"Are they okay? The cows?"

"I guess they are."

"You do a lot of guessing, don't you, Fin?"

He grinned. "I guess."

They went back toward the house. Fin herded the cows through the gate with clucks and slaps on their rumps, determined not to cry again as he thought of leaving them. The cows would remain on the farm in their own barn awaiting his return when he was old enough to take care of them himself. Jim Cornelius was moving in and would look after the farm, Lady said. Fin liked plump, smiling Mr. Cornelius. He was the music teacher at school. But Mr. Cornelius did not belong on his grandparents' farm, in his grandparents' house. He belonged behind the upright piano in school, pounding out the notes and overenunciating the words of cheerful songs that made no sense:

Have you ever

Seen Quebec?

Don-key riding ...

When they got back to the house, Fin's suit was filthy, covered by a film of dust. He stood inside the door, leaning against the screen, weary and low. He wished Lady would offer him a glass of lemonade. His mother often made lemonade for him in the summer. But his mother was gone. She had died of cancer, a word that was whispered fearfully, as if even its enunciation might be deadly. The thought of her holding a glass out to him in those last weeks before she was moved to the hospital, her emaciated arm trembling, her face drawn and purposefully cheerful, made him miss her in a way he had not yet had time to do. How could he, with all the sympathetic fussing of neighbors interrupting him every time he sat down to think? They meant well. But sometimes you need to be alone. He felt alone, even surrounded by neighbors and pie. But sometimes you need to really be alone. He glanced at Lady and got the feeling that would be no problem in the future.

More than anything he had ever wanted before, he wanted at that moment to bury his face in his mother's shoulder one more time. But there was only Lady. She tilted her head and gazed back at him curiously until he finally found the courage to ask her if he could get a glass of water.

"Water is for washing," she said gaily. But she followed him into his grandmother's kitchen, watched him get a glass out of the cupboard and hold it under the tap, then lighted a cigarette and watched him drink.

"What about Gus?" he asked when he'd finished.


"Our dog." He paused. Then: "My dog."

"Oh God. A mutt, too?"

"He's not a mutt. He's a collie."

"Shouldn't it stay here with its flock of cows? Won't it be sad without them?"

"He would be sad without me." What Fin didn't say was that he would be sad without Gus, but Lady didn't need him to, it appeared.

"Oh God," she said again. "Well, where is Rin Tin Tin hiding, anyway?"

He was at the Pounds'.

"He's at the pound? Good grief, they couldn't wait until after the funeral?"

"No," Fin said. "The Pounds, the people you met, the people who took care of me."

"Thank God," she said. "I do not approve of euthanasia, Fin. Remember that. If it ever comes up."

"What's euthanasia?"

"Come on," she said.

Fin had packed his clothes in a large suitcase. A pair of blue jeans, two pairs of cotton slacks for school, his shirts. His sneakers. Two sweaters. His winter jacket. He hadn't been sure what to pack, really. He had never packed for himself. His toothbrush. He had almost forgotten it. In a box he'd put his baseball glove, toy soldiers, comics, models, books, and records. He wondered if Lady had a record player.

"The rest will be put in storage, Finny. So don't worry."

"This is all I have," he said. "There is no other stuff. No stuff that's mine."

"I'm afraid it's all yours now." Lady pointed to his grandmother's collection of little Delft houses, to the needlepoint pillows, to the cranberry glass and the wooden rocking chair — to everything in the house. And then she pointed out the windows. "The cows, too, Finny."

It hit Fin then for the first time that he was really leaving. It hit him then, and not for the last time, that nothing would ever be the same again.


"Does Lady need defending?"

The existence of Lady was revealed to Fin in pieces, literally. When he was four, someone — a guest? a maid? — mentioned a half-sister and was immediately shushed by Mr. and Mrs. Hadley. Fin was left with the picture of a girl cut off at the waist, of two legs, two feet, two black patent-leather shoes, two white socks. This half-sister was half of the only sister he knew, the sister of the boy down the hall, and so she wore the same gray wool pleated skirt. She was half a sister, the bottom half, no arms, no hands, no face. He was left, too, with a sense that this decapitated sister was secret, and secrets, he already understood, were generally associated with shame.

When he was five, he saw her picture for the first time. It was in a newspaper lying open on the dining-room table. A young woman posed demurely for the camera, a strand of pearls around her neck, like his mother's pearls, but the girl in the picture had skin like the pearls, too. She was beautiful. She wore a white wedding dress, shiny satin. Lace.

"That's my name," he said, pointing to the word "Hadley" in the caption.

"Aren't you clever?" said his mother. "Reading The New York Times." Though she sounded nervous and glanced at her husband. When Hugo Hadley grunted, she said, "That's your half-sister. That's why she has the same last name. And she's getting married."

"Thank God for small miracles. And I pity the poor fool," Fin's father said.

"You'll meet her at the wedding," Fin's mother said.

But he didn't.

The wedding was in a church, and Fin sat in a pew in his gray wool shorts and Peter Pan–collared white shirt. He had new shoes for the wedding. And knee socks. He waited and waited and watched men in black-and-gray-striped pants and long black jackets rush up and down the aisle. He waited and waited and pushed one knee sock down, then the other, pulled one knee sock up, then the other. He waited and waited and watched his father appear from a door in the side of the church, then disappear back through the door, his face changing from its normal color first to red, its color when he got angry, then to purple, a new color. Fin kicked his new shoes against the pew in front of him and waited as his mother whispered nervously to another lady. He waited and waited and waited, in vain.

"Did Lady get married?" Fin asked in the taxi. "Did we miss it? What happened?"

His father was silent. His face had gone back to red.

"There was a change of plans, sweetheart," his mother said. "Lady's not getting married today after all."

Not long after the wedding at which Lady did not get married, Fin saw her picture a second time, a different picture in a different kind of newspaper, smaller, and his sister was on a beach in a bathing suit. She wore sunglasses and held a cigarette in one hand. Fin thought she was even more beautiful than in the last photograph, and said so.

"Beautiful? Yes, she's beautiful," his father said, throwing the paper down. "But she's no lady."

"She is because her name is," Fin said. "So she is."

"What was I thinking?" Hugo said. "Lady. Ridiculous name."

Fin had been named on a whim, too. February 18, 1953, windy and raw outside — "cold as charity," Hugo Hadley liked to tell his friends. His newborn son and his wife both healthy and sleeping, he left the hospital and walked out into the early dark, no thought of where he was going, happy, relieved, just walking and walking, and just when he realized he was bitterly cold, he spotted a revival house. He would slip in to warm up. The film: Les Enfants du Paradis. Almost over? Just as well. He couldn't bear to watch the whole thing. The French ... too theatrical in general. He paid no attention to the movie, arty crap, until it was over. Then the screen went black, and three bright white letters appeared.


"I think Lady is a pretty name," said Fin's mother.

Hugo laughed. "Who are you defending, Lydia? My choice of names? Or that little tart? I can never tell with you."

"You don't need defending."

"Does Lady need defending?" Fin asked.

"You have no idea what we're talking about," Hugo said, as if that answered Fin's question.

Which was true, of course, he had no idea what they were talking about, except that they were talking about Lady, and that he knew when something was wrong in the house, and something was definitely wrong.

* * *

A few weeks later, a tall, elegant lady visited. She was introduced to Fin as Mrs. Hadley. He looked up at his mother, alarmed. She laughed, her musical girlish laugh, and said, "Don't worry, baby. Mommy's still Mommy. This is another Mrs. Hadley. This is Lady's mother."

Fin shook hands with the other Mrs. Hadley.

His father came out of the living room and said, "Well, well."

Then Fin was told to go and play. Who, he wondered, when they said that, did they think he was going to play with? He went as far as the dining-room door, and from there he watched them settle themselves, the other Mrs. Hadley on a stiff armchair, his mother perched on the edge of the sofa, his father striding back and forth, saying, "I can't just leave everything and go chasing after her."


Excerpted from Fin & Lady by Cathleen Schine. Copyright © 2013 Cathleen Schine. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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