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Beth Gutcheon's critically acclaimed family saga, Leeway Cottage, was a major achievement: a vivid and moving tale of war and marriage and their consequences that enchanted readers. Good-bye and Amen is the next chapter for...
Beth Gutcheon's critically acclaimed family saga, Leeway Cottage, was a major achievement: a vivid and moving tale of war and marriage and their consequences that enchanted readers. Good-bye and Amen is the next chapter for the family of Leeway Cottage, the story of what happens when those most powerful people in any family drama, the parents, have left the stage.
The complicated marriage of the gifted Danish pianist Laurus Moss to the provincial American child of privilege Sydney Brant was a mystery to many who knew them, including their three children. Now, Eleanor, Monica, and Jimmy Moss have to decide how to divide or share what Laurus and Sydney have left them without losing one another.
Secure and cheerful Eleanor, the oldest, wants little for herself but much for her children. Monica, the least-loved middle child, brings her youthful scars to the table, as well as the baggage of a difficult marriage to the charismatic Norman, who left a brilliant legal career, though not his ambition, to become an Episcopal priest. Youngest and best-loved Jimmy, who made a train wreck of his young adulthood, has returned after a long period of alienation from the family surprisingly intact, but extremely hard for his sisters to read.
Having lived through childhoods both materially blessed and emotionally difficult, with a father who could seem uninvolved and a mother who loved a good family game of "let's you and him fight," the Mosses have formed strong adult bonds that none of them wants to damage. But it's difficult to divide a beloved summer house three ways and keep it too. They all know what's at stake—in a world of atomized families, a house like Leeway Cottage can be the glue that keeps generations of cousins and grandchildren deeply connected to one another. But knowing it's important doesn't make it easy.
Gutcheon concludes the Moss family saga that began with Leeway Cottage in a disappointing fashion. Laurus and Sydney Brant Moss have died, and it's up to their three children, Eleanor, Monica and Jimmy, to divide up the estate. Naturally, the process exposes old frictions and creates new ones while sparking reminiscences of their lives, notably concerning their difficult relationships with their prickly mother, who hid venom beneath a veneer of social graciousness. The narration is many-voiced; the siblings, their spouses and children, their friends and neighbors, and even the dead contribute to the storytelling. While the points-of-view of the living are maddeningly self-involved, the dead really seem to understand what's going on. The effect is both tragic and mildly amusing, but gradually, it becomes difficult to feel for the characters. Though the novel is beautifully written, the narrative becomes frustrating and claustrophobic repetitive as it wears on. (Aug.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Sydney and Laurus Moss, whose lives were the subject of Gutcheon's Leeway Cottage, have passed away. When their three adult children gather at their summer home in Dundee, ME, to divide up their parents' possessions, they feel determined not to fight over tea cozies. That they are not actually able to avoid old resentments is no surprise. Fortunately, laughter and new realizations are also afoot. Readers get many viewpoints on the family and its history because more than 50 characters (given their own index in an afterword) offer their first-person input. Spouses, children, stepchildren, and friends of the family are given the chance to speak. This unique, collagelike technique takes some getting used to, but the result is an undeniably rich, no-holds-barred portrait of an American family. Strongly recommended for fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ4/15/08.]
—Keddy Ann Outlaw
The trouble started when Jimmy took the piano.
Not their famous father's concert Steinway; that was too valuable to keep and was, anyway, nine feet long. Jimmy took the piano from the living room, the baby grand that had belonged to their Danish aunt Nina, the Re-sis-tance hero. Everyone knew Monica wanted that piano more than anything, and certainly more than Jimmy did.
Well, we all knew it. We assume Jimmy knew.
The middle-aged orphans' lottery. Three grown siblings come together at the scene of their shared childhood, which they experienced the same and totally differently in about equal parts, to divide up the contents of the house they grew up in. Was there ever a scene more fraught with possibility for bloodless injuries, sepsis in wounds no sane person wants to reopen? They'd have been better off burning the house down. But they hadn't. So few do.
Which we think is just as well. Birth is usually instructive. Death always. But as one of the minor passages, this one holds much interest. Deciding within a family how to divide or share what the dead leave behind is a test that tells.
In this family, Eleanor needs neither money nor things, but she likes to win, at least sometimes. And as eldest, feels entitled. Monica needs everything, and as middle and least-loved child, has her issues. And Jimmy as the youn-gest and well-known favorite feels . . .well, it's often impossible to know what Jimmy feels. He's a stage-five thinker, to the surprise of a good many of us. We'd love to know if this came from hisBuddhist period, or if it was all those psychedelic drugs.
Eleanor Moss Applegate We were in the dining room of the house in Connecticut. We grew up there, but none of us had lived there full-time since we were fifteen, forty years ago in my case. Jimmy did, here and there, whenever he was kicked out of school, but not for de-cades. Of course we visited our parents there, but Mother was pretty territorial. She didn't like people prowling, especially her grandchildren, so now that we had the run of the house, what was there came as a revelation. All our mother's stuff from her childhood was up in the attic, and a lot from generations before that. Mother and Papa had died together last Labor Day weekend. That was a bad shock, of course, but not the only one.
Andrew Carnegie said that if you die rich, you die disgraced. Well, Mother will be safe with Andrew, if they meet in heaven. She'd been living beyond her means for years. Way beyond.
Bobby Applegate One of the first things my future mother-in-law told me when we met was that her grandmother used to cross the street to avoid shaking hands with a man who was known to be Spending Principal. Those robber barons, who made their money before the income tax, you'd have thought their shit didn't smell. Oh, sorry.
Anyway, I was stunned at how little would be left, after Uncle Sam took his whack. Sydney Brant Moss, the Princess of Cleveland, Ohio, had not been one you could talk to about estate planning. The laws of mortality had been suspended in her case. That was her position and she stuck to it.
Eleanor Applegate Poor Mother. Being Lady Bountiful was her whole identity. After I got over the surprise, it made sense to me.
Bobby Applegate She did give a lot away, and got a lot of social mileage out of doing it. She also paid no attention at all to what her money guys were doing, even when she still had her marbles. Après elle, le déluge.
Sydney and Laurus Moss, late parents of this tribe, died exactly the way they wanted to, by the way. Together. In old age, on the last night of their last summer in a place they loved. A faulty heater was involved, but so was will. It was hard on the children, though, I admit that.
Sydney's mind had begun departing in wisps and then chunks years earlier, leaving her soul, that bright nightgown, to cope alone. This made her a much simpler being than she had been for most of her life. More like us. Laurus had had strokes and knew there would be more. He dreaded what would have come next for them: he unable to look after them both, and she long since unable to do much of anything except be grateful. (Not that that should be underestimated as a contribution to the common weal.)
Laurus appeared here almost immediately, and moved on just as quickly. Sydney, so far, is still elsewhere.
Eleanor Applegate I'd been the one to do most of the cleanout of the house, and to deal with the officer at the bank and the lawyer who'd drawn up our parents' wills. They're both about a thousand years old and we think the lawyer has Alzheimer's. Monica had her hands full at home, and Jimmy lives in California . . .well, it fell to me.
The bank had all the stuff in the house appraised, for estate taxes, and I'd hired an auction woman to come in after us and sell what we didn't want. My daughter Nora had dreams of selling it all herself on eBay but we said no. I can't say she took it well. She graduates from college next month and hasn't a clue what comes next, and she saw this as about a year's employment. And I sympathize. I was already married when I graduated from college, but I know what that panic felt like.Good-bye and Amen. Copyright © by Beth Gutcheon. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted December 9, 2008
Still reeling and grieving the tragic deaths of their parents Laurus and Sydney, the three adult Moss children arrive for the middle age mourners¿ lottery in other words what to do with their parents¿ possessions. Each comes to the house with differing desires and needs, but it starts off wrong when the youngest and only son Jimmy takes the baby grand piano that the middle offspring Monica wanted. War has begun between the Moss orphans. --- The oldest Eleanor Applegate wants things for her four children so will fight for them, but raising four kids makes her believe in fair and share. Monica Faithful wants whatever she can get, but also needs to play fair with her siblings in the Lottery while she struggles in a bad marriage just like she struggled in what she thought was a bad childhood due to her officious snobbish mom. Jimmy Moss has been estranged from his family seemingly forever, but though he is not sure he wants a reconciliation he wants to be fair with his older sisters. Coming into the Lottery fair play is what each wants now comes the practice as the summer house and the concert Steinway and much more become debated. --- The sequel to LEEWAY COTTAGE is an interesting well written extended family drama as the three siblings encouraged by their respective loved ones struggle with the orphans¿ lottery while saying GOOD-BYE AND AMEN to their parents. Each of the Moss offspring had issues with their overbearing mother that shapes their thoughts. Superbly written, each character including the extended family members is unique and complete. However, after a while the reiteration of past transgressions turns into whining as the audience will demand the trio complete the task. Still this is a solid look at families at a time of grief and asset divisibility. --- Harriet Klausner
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Posted April 24, 2013
Posted July 29, 2008
As the sequel to Leeway Cottage, Good-Bye and Amen is the continuing drama about the Moss family. The story is still a fascinating stand-alone novel even if you haven¿t read Beth Gutcheon¿s first tale about this captivating New England family. Good-Bye and Amen is written in a unique format and recounts how three siblings reunite at their family summer home in Maine to decide how to divide up their parents¿ estate. The story begins with the Moss children, now adults, going through their parents¿ possessions following Laurus and Sydney Moss¿s death. The marriage of well to do American Sydney Brant to talented pianist Laurus was a mystery to most people who knew them but especially to their children. Both their parents influenced the three children but their domineering mother was the one with the greatest influence on how they grew up. Pressed by their own families to get their fair share of their inheritance, the siblings struggle with how to reasonably divide up what their parents left them while keeping their love for each other intact. This ¿lottery¿ of their inheritance also brings the siblings together as a way of saying goodbye to their parents. Things get off on the wrong foot when the son, Jimmy, takes the baby grand piano that middle sister, Monica, wanted very much. Jimmy is the youngest and for years was off on his own, said to be involved with drugs, but has now settled down with a respectable job making computer games and living in California with his wife Janice. Surprisingly, Jimmy wants to be fair with his sisters, even though he isn¿t yet sure he wants to have a relationship with them again. This trip is one in which he decides they may all learn more about each other and come away better off in the end. Eleanor Applegate, the eldest Moss child, is well mannered and very secure in her marriage to Bobby, a banker with a laid-back manner about him. Eleanor is not as much interested in what she can get for herself but rather for her children. Middle child, Monica, is married to Norman Faithful, who just may not live up to his name. He is a pompous minister from a rather dubious background and is basically unpopular with the rest of the clan. Monica herself wants whatever she can get. Her desire to possess so much may be a substitute for what she is lacking in her troubled marriage. Although Monica is loyal to Norman, even after he quit his law practice to take up the ministry, it is easy to see that he is deeply disturbed and not what Monica thought he was when they married. As mentioned, the story is told in a unique format using short sections conveyed by the characters in the story. They each tell about what is going on from their own point of view and when you then read the next part told by another character, one can see that everyone may have a difference of opinion on what is really going on. This way of writing makes the reading of Good-Bye and Amen an extraordinary and outstanding book to read as it brings you right into the family. It makes you wish you were in that house in Maine with them so you could share your idea of what is going on. Who will get what is a main part of the story as every item, no matter large or small, plays an important role as it reflects bitterness and hard feelings that Eleanor, Monica, Jimmy and their families feel toward one another. The final decision of dividing the actual home into thirds leads to the outcome of where this family will go from here and what it will mean for their family and generations to come. The story is open and amusing and memorable. The middle section of the book contains photographs of the family and that adds to the reader really seeing ¿the whole picture¿ of the Moss family. Submitted by Karen Haney, July, 2008
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Posted December 25, 2008
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Posted January 19, 2010
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