Five Fortunes

( 10 )

Overview

Witty, wise, and hope-filled, Five Fortunes is a large-hearted tale of five vivid and unforgettable women who know where they've been but have no idea where they're going. A lively octogenarian, a private investigator, a mother and daughter with an unresolved past, and a recently widowed politician's wife share little else except a thirst for new dreams, but after a week at the luxurious health spa known as "Fat Chance" their lives will be intertwined in ways they couldn't have imagined. At a place where doctors,...
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Five Fortunes

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Overview

Witty, wise, and hope-filled, Five Fortunes is a large-hearted tale of five vivid and unforgettable women who know where they've been but have no idea where they're going. A lively octogenarian, a private investigator, a mother and daughter with an unresolved past, and a recently widowed politician's wife share little else except a thirst for new dreams, but after a week at the luxurious health spa known as "Fat Chance" their lives will be intertwined in ways they couldn't have imagined. At a place where doctors, lawyers, spoiled housewives, movie stars, and captains of industry are stripped of the social markers that keep them from really seeing one another, unexpected friendships emerge, reminding us of the close links between the rich and the poor, fortune and misfortune, and the magic of chance.
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Editorial Reviews

Anne Rivers Siddons
She has absolutely perfect pitch when it comes to capturing the lives of these remarkable women. This seems to be the quintessential American woman's tale. I loved it.
Penelope Fitzgerald
This is the novel as we used to know it, with laughter, tears, true-to-life details and a must-know what happens next story line.
Sandra Scofield
Beth Gutcheon's novel is like your dream of a best friend: funny and sunny and wise, full of intimate news, never preachy or self-centered. This writer knows women, and how much we all want a book to comfort us. If ever there was proof that a delicious novel—cheer and sad and perfectly resonant—can be intelligent and serious, too—here it is, in hearts.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Friends, lovers, adulterers, a fortune-teller and even a murderer are objects of gently sardonic fun in Gutcheon's stylish new comedy (after "Saying Grace") about five women who meet at The Cloisters, a posh $4000-a-week health spa in Arizona. Octogenarian Rae Strouse, a former fan-dancer and now a wealthy San Francisco matron, returns for her 22nd visit. A birthday gift for outsized (six feet and 180 lbs.) L.A. PI Carter Bond allows her a week in the hallowed hot tubs. Amy Burrows and her obese teenage daughter, Jill, come tangled in dirty laundry from their privileged Manhattan life, while anomalous, athletic Idahoan Laurie Lopez comes to grieve over the death of her husband, a politician and once a tennis star. "Fat Chance" is an apt nickname for this temple of rejuvenation: most of the guests haven't a prayer of living up to the example of their enthusiastic, neon-clad fitness instructors, one of whom is so thin "her body looked like a collection of bicycle parts." At the end of their frog march through the fat farm's regimen, the women meet in secret with a mysterious palm-reading masseuse, whose predictions will follow them long after they have completed their tour of duty at The Cloisters; by then, we are as caught up in this fast-paced story as these women are in each other's lives.
Kirkus Reviews
Gutcheon, veteran chronicler of the moneyed but miserable set ("Saying Grace", 1995, etc.), takes five women and turns the friendship they make at a spa into an upbeat tale of love, redemption, and purpose helped along by money and powerful contacts. The five women, all with problems or heartaches, meet at the Cloisters, a fashionable health resort in the Arizona desert where the rich and famous come to lose weight, stop smoking, or relax. The women include chipper octogenarian Rae Strouse, who has lots of bucks but whose husband Albie, at home in the family manse in San Francisco, is failing fast. Lonely college student Jill, who looks like a blimp since she started eating as a way of coping with being raped in Central Park, is there with mother Amy, a woman who, the resident palm reader suggests, has rare abilities and will soon remarry, a bit of a surprise, since she is currently married to Noah, a New York surgeon. Lanky Carter Bond, divorced and a Los Angeles private investigator, wants to stop smoking, and Laura Lopez, a judge, mother of five, and recent widow, just wants to grieve. Inevitably, the women are drawn to one another, and once they leave the spa keep in touch. In the year that follows, Jill, who experienced an affirming epiphany, loses weight, deals with another attack, and makes new friends; Rae, heartbroken after Albie dies, finds a new purpose in life when she starts building a housing project; a drug bust that went wrong brings not only baby Flora into Carter's life but also former husband Jerry; Laura, back home in Idaho, runs for the Senate, at her friends' urging; and, when Amy sees Noah with another woman, she moves out and focuses her considerable talents onrunning Laura's campaign. An unpretentious tale of friendship among the well-heeled that is both a page-turner and day-brightener. (Literary Guild alternate selection)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060929954
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/28/2005
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 944,077
  • Product dimensions: 5.37 (w) x 8.03 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Beth Gutcheon

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.

Biography

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 Goodbye 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.

Good To Know

Gutcheon shared some fun and fascinating anecdotes in our interview:

"When my second novel was in manuscript, a subsidiary rights guy at my publisher secretly sent a copy of it to a friend who was working in Hollywood with the producer Stanley Jaffe, who had made Goodbye Columbus, The Bad News Bears, and Kramer v. Kramer, run Paramount Pictures before he was 30, and met the queen of England. My agent had an auction set up for the film rights of Still Missing for the following Friday, with some very heavy-hitter producers and such, which was exciting enough. Two days before the auction, Stanley Jaffe walked into my agent's office in New York and said, ‘I want to make a pre-emptive bid for Beth Gutcheon's novel.'

‘But you haven't read it,' says Wendy.

‘Nevertheless,' says Stanley.

‘Well, I have this auction set up. You're going to have to pay a lot to have me call it off,' says Wendy.

‘I understand that,' says Stanley.

Wendy named a number.

Stanley said, ‘Done,' or words to that effect.

To this day, remembering Wendy's next phone call to me causes me something resembling a heart attack.

When, several weeks later, Stanley called and asked me if I had an interest in writing the screenplay of the movie that became Without a Trace, I said, ‘No.'

He quite rightly hung up on me.

I then spent twenty minutes in a quiet room wondering what I had done. A man with a shelf full of Oscars, on cozy terms with Lizzie Windsor, had just offered me film school for one, all expenses paid by Twentieth Century Fox. He knew I didn't know how to write screenplays. He wasn't offering to hire me because he wanted to see me fail. Who cares that all I ever wanted to see on my tombstone was ‘She Wrote a Good Book?' The chance to learn something new that was both hard and really interesting was not resistible. I spent the rest of the weekend tracking him from airport to airport until I could get him back on the phone. (This was before we all had cell phones.)

I was sitting in my bleak office on a wet gray day, on which my newly teenaged son had shaved his head and I had just realized I'd lost my American Express card, when the phone rang. ‘Is this Beth Gutcheon?' asked a voice that made my hair stand on end. I said it was. ‘This is Paul Newman,' said the voice.

It was, too. The fine Italian hand of Stanley Jaffe again, he'd recommended me to work on a script Paul was developing. Paul invited me to dinner to talk about it. My son said, ‘For heaven's sake, Mother, don't be early and don't be tall.' I was both. We did end up writing a script together; it was eventually made for television with Christine Lahti, and fabulous Terry O'Quinn in the Paul Newman part, called The Good Fight."

"I read all the time. My husband claims I take baths instead of showers because I can't figure out how to read in the shower, and he's right."

"I started buying poetry for the first time since college after 9/11, but wasn't reading it until a friend mentioned that she and her husband read poetry in the morning before they have breakfast. She is right -- a pot of tea and a quiet table in morning sunlight is exactly the right time for poetry. I read The New York Times Book Review in the bath and on subways because it is light and foldable. I listen to audiobooks through earphones while I take my constitutionals or do housework. I read physical books for a couple of hours every night after everyone else is in bed -- usually two books alternately, one novel and one biography or book of letters."

"I have a dog named Daisy Buchanan. She ran for president last fall; her slogan was ‘No Wavering, No Flip-flopping, No pants.' She doesn't know yet that she didn't win, so if you meet her, please don't tell her."

"Last little-known fact: When I was in high school I invented, by knitting one, a double-wide sweater with two turtlenecks for my brother and his girlfriend. It was called a Tweter and was even manufactured in college colors for a year or two. There was a double-paged color spread in Life magazine of models wearing Tweters and posing with the Jets football team. My proudest moment was the Charles Addams cartoon that ran in The New Yorker that year. It showed a Tweter in a store window, while outside, gazing at it in wonder, was a man with two heads."

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Stepping out to the curb in front of the Phoenix airport that November Sunday, Mrs. Albert Strouse, San Francisco matron of impressive age, was met by a welcome shock of heat. There had been a wintry dankness in the wind at home for weeks, which along with the artificial winter of the airplane cabin had settled into her bones. She adjusted her dashing new mango-colored sunglasses and basked.

A young woman in a jacket of a familiar blue appeared beside her. "Mrs. Strouse!"

"Cassie! How are you, dear?"

"Can't complain." Cassie took Rae's small suitcase and led her to the blue minivan waiting in the No Waiting zone. "You're my last lady. Do you mind riding up front with me?"

"Delighted. I'm good with a shotgun."

Cassie held the door while Rae hoisted herself into the front seat.

There were four other passengers already on board, none known to her. They exchanged nods of greeting with her, except for one fat one who either had jet lag or had enjoyed some cocktails on the plane and was slumped in the back with her eyes shut, looking like a failed popover.

Normally Rae Strouse loved a party. Normally Rae Strouse considered three strangers on a bus a festive gathering, but today as the van left the city behind she was just as glad to contemplate the afternoon light on the desert and let The Young behind her get on with their conversation.

The Young were apparently two childhood friends, now separated by husbands and children and distance, taking a week together. They were clucking over the guest list, looking for useful kernels of information, hoping they weren't going to regret not going to Aruba. New guests were always anxious abouthow it was going to be.

"Thirty-four, thirty-five, thirty-six. Thirty-six. Well that's a nice size. Group. That's a good group," said the dark one.

"Look, here's that woman Glenna Leisure. She's in W all the time."

"Is she?"

"Yes, you know who she is. She's that one who was a stewardess, she married the leveraged-buyout guy?"

"Is that the one whose co-op got so upset about her Christmas tree?"

"Exactly."

They fell silent as the van sped along toward the violet shadows of the Mazatzal Mountains.

"Is your sister coming with you this time?" Cassie asked Rae.

"No, we're taking a cruise later in the year. Mr. Strouse and I want to show her the Greek Isles."

"That sounds nice," said Cassie.

"We're looking forward to it."

There was another silence.

"A number of your pals from last time are back," said Cassie. Rae nodded. She was such an old hand by now that there were almost always guests she knew from earlier visits. She liked that, but even more she liked meeting new ones. It wasn't so easy at her age to meet new people, and it was important. The old ones kept dying.

The two friends behind her handed the guest list to the third woman, who now remarked, "Mrs. Alan Steadman . . . isn't that Megan Soule?"

Even Rae turned around at that.

"Megan Soule? You're kidding!"

"That's her married name," said the third guest. The two friends looked at her.

"Megan Soule, omigod, I love her! She was so cute in that movie, with Robin Williams . . . "

"I saw her in concert once. She was incredible."

"I've heard she's a really nice person."

"It says she's from Aspen."

"Well she isn't, but they do have a house there."

"But she lives in Malibu."

"Don't those friends of yours live in Malibu?"

"No, they moved."

The little van whizzed along over the desert.

"Well, this should be fun," said the plump blonde, sounding uncertain.

Forty minutes later the little van turned down an unmarked road winding among tall pines. It crossed an arroyo and stopped before a wooden door set in a high stucco wall. The pines cast deep shadows, and the sounds of the highway above and behind them seemed suddenly far away.

The driver rang a heavy brass bell hanging from the doorpost. It had a deep iron peal. Almost at once a young woman appeared through the carved door. Her name tag said jackie.

"Hello, Mrs. Strouse, welcome back," she said as Rae was handed down from the van. Rae passed through into a courtyard inside the walls, the first cloister. When the little door closed behind the group they seemed suddenly wrapped in stunning silence.

"Oh!" said the blonde. "So quiet . . . "

It took a moment to become aware that it was not silent at all, but filled with a subtle singing of crickets, of water playing somewhere nearby, of birds, of moving branches. This courtyard was built around a stone pool whose surface reflected trees towering around it.

Five Fortunes. Copyright © by Beth R. Gutcheon. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
Five Fortunes is a novel about the rejuvenating power of friendship. In it, five women of different socio-economic background and temperaments meet at The Cloisters--a posh health spa in Arizona affectionately called "Fat Chance" by its devotees. Each brings with her a private burden and a hope for emotional and physical healing. Rae Strouse, a wealthy, spry octogenarian, comes every year for relief from the pains and losses of old age. Amy Burrows and her overweight teenage daughter, Jill, come to try a new cure for an old trauma. Carter Bond, a divorced L.A. Private Investigator, has been tricked into a week at the Cloisters by a business partner who wants her to quit smoking. And Laura Lopez, a judge and daughter of a prominent Idaho political family, hopes to let go of a paralyzing sense that her own life ended when her husband's did.

These five women have extremely different lives and gifts, but they have in common kindness, courage, and a sense of the ridiculous. The interlocking alliances they form affect each of them in unexpected ways in the touching, witty, and always entertaining story that follows their first chance meeting.

Topics for Discussion
1. Five Fortunes begins and ends at a health spa. Why was this particular setting chosen? How does it bring out the essence of each character?

2. Of the five central characters, Jill is the only person who is under 40, and arguably, she has the most complicated inner life. Which experiences in Jill's life account for this? What does the nature of Jill's friendship with other women say about the relationships forged in middle age as opposed to friendships forged inthe years of early youth?

3. The Taoist tale of the Tiger that Jill, Carter, and Laurie hear in T'ai Chi is a cautionary tale which says that any act, no matter how well meant, could have an unforeseen harmful consequence, and any horrible event may bring some good with it. We can't know the ultimate effect of our actions, and we can't necessarily tell the difference between good and evil when we're looking right at it. All we can do is remember that everything we do matters, and will have consequences for ourselves and others. Which events in this novel support the assumption?

4. In the year we follow them, each character grows in different ways. Is there any one who grows more than the others? If so, which one?

5. One of the undercurrent themes in Five Fortunes is that acts of generosity have impact on both the givers and the receivers. If the ability to give wisely and well is one of life's greatest luxuries, then Albie Strouse is a truly rich man, but what has made him so? What if we ask the same question about Eloise?

6. MacDuff is an ambiguous figure, but his presence seems to embody important themes in the book. How does his story comment on the Tale of the Tiger? How about Walter's story about the man who won the Hero medal? What is the author saying about giving and receiving? About who is saved, and how?

7. Five Fortunes explores the overlapping cycles of a woman's life. What are some of these cycles? How do Rae, Carter, Amy, Jill, and Laura personify each one?

About the Author: Beth Gutcheon is the critically acclaimed author of five novels: The New Girls, Still Missing, Domestic Pleasures, Saying Grace, and Five Fortunes. 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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 11 of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2012

    Not sure why I kept reading

    I was just interested enough in the characters that I wanted to find out how everything ended. I actually now kind of wish I'd gone ahead and moved on to something else instead. So many scenes and characters could have...should have...been more fully developed. The wasted potential of this novel makes me very sad and disappointed.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2008

    I had such high hopes

    I really enjoyed More Than You Know by Beth Gutcheon, it is one of my absolute favorite books. Based on the fact that I enjoyed that book so much and after reading the reviews for Five Fortunes I had extremely high hopes for this one. I was seriously disappointed with Five Fortunes though and I really wanted to abandon this book before finishing. The charachters are ridiculous and the story lines are so cheesy and unbelievable. They're not even entertaining. There is a weak attempt at a ra-ra girl power theme, but it comes across as an absolute joke. I would definitely not recommend this one...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2012

    End of wind clan/begining of sky clan

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2004

    Melinda, Mom of twins who finally has time to read again!

    What a winderful time I had reading this book. Thank you Ms. Gutcheon! I am recommending this to my bookclub and I know they will love it as I have.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2003

    LOVED IT!!

    I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I have read this book! I love that each time I read it I am reminded of the awesome bond between friends, not to mention what a little WOMAN power will get! I seriously enjoyed this read and have made it summer tradition for the past four years!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2002

    Great read

    This was a great read. The characters were great. I laughed a lot and came close to tears at certain points. The story was very well written. If you love reading, read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2000

    Great

    Although this wasn't the best written book I've ever read, I'd have to say it was great. There is a feeling of happiness and friendship that runs through this book. Basically, I think it's a feel good book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2000

    A Big Disappointment!

    This book started out strong but once they left the fat farm...the story and character plotlines fizzled. The author annoyingly jumped from character to character each chapter for no good reason. For this reason I couldn't get intersted enough to enjoy even one character. I could hardly believe the friendships they supposedly made because it was never developed! I had to force myself to finish this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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