Good Things I Wish You

Good Things I Wish You

3.5 10
by A. Manette Ansay

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“A lyrical, haunting exploration of loves past and present. Witty, sprightly, surprising, this deeply original and utterly captivating new novel … beguiles the senses and dazzles the heart. A beautiful book.” —Diana Abu-Jaber

“As the parallels between the two relationships multiply, the novel catches fire. . . . Ansay is a

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“A lyrical, haunting exploration of loves past and present. Witty, sprightly, surprising, this deeply original and utterly captivating new novel … beguiles the senses and dazzles the heart. A beautiful book.” —Diana Abu-Jaber

“As the parallels between the two relationships multiply, the novel catches fire. . . . Ansay is a gifted and sure-handed storyteller.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

From the critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Vinegar Hill and Midnight Champagne comes a beautifully written story of two summer romances—one of a brilliant pianist, one of a struggling novelist—separated in time by nearly two centuries. If you enjoy the novels of Ann Patchett (Bel Canto), Claire Messud (The Emperor's Children), and Lionel Shriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin), you’ll find much to love in A. Manette Ansay’s stunningly original Good Things I Wish You.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In Ansay's slight new novel, Jeanette Hochmann is a recently divorced mother writing a novel based on the 40-year relationship between 19th-century German pianist Clara Schumann and her husband's protégé, composer Johannes Brahms. Through a dating service, Jeanette meets a German entrepreneur, Hart, and while they appear to have little in common, Hart's 16-year-old daughter-like Jeannette in her youth-is a budding musical prodigy, who lives in Leipzig near the former residence of the subject of Jeanette's book. Although Jeanette and Hart attempt to have a platonic friendship, it quickly (and predictably) evolves into more, and their lives begin to overlap with the characters of Jeanette's novel. The story is most compelling when examining the fascinating bond between the 19th-century musicians. Less compelling are the pages devoted to navigating the more mundane contemporary world of dating and Starbucks coffee runs. While the photographs, sketches and letters interspersed throughout the book provide interest and help to elevate the material, in the end, Ansay's novel feels piddling and ordinary. We know exactly where Hart and Jeanette's relationship is going, and as a result, it's a strain to get there. (July)

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Kirkus Reviews
From novelist and former concert pianist Ansay (Blue Water, 2006, etc.), metafiction about a novelist writing about pianist Clara Schumann. Clara is a fascinating subject. The greatest pianist of her day-think Britney Spears and Meryl Streep combined-she defies her father to marry composer Robert Schumann and largely gives up her career to be a mother and wife, devoted to Robert even when he goes mad. Along comes young Johannes Brahms. Clearly in love with Clara, he cares devotedly for Robert and the kids. Meanwhile Clara begins jumping at every chance to leave her family to go on tour. While Robert is in a sanitarium, Clara and Johannes travel together, apparently platonically, and exchange passionate letters, but once Robert conveniently dies, so does their passion. What remains is a mysterious, if abiding friendship. Unfortunately, fictional character Jeanette Hochmann, who is writing a novelized account of the musician's life, is less riveting. A divorced college professor and successful novelist devoted to her small daughter, Jeanette yearns for a man in her life as well as more free time to finish her book. Through a dating service she meets Hart, a divorced German doctor/entrepreneur. Coincidentally, they have planned trips to Leipzig at the same time, Jeanette to research Clara, Hart to visit his adolescent daughter, a musical prodigy he rarely gets to see since a nasty custody battle with his ex-wife. Jeanette writes her affair with Hart into her novel without telling him as their irritatingly ambiguous relationship evolves. Even when he proposes marriage to Jeanette, Hart cannot pretend to have the passionate kind of love he felt for his ex. That's what Jeanette claims shewants, but although she identifies with Clara's conflicting creative and emotional needs, what she really wants remains murky. An ambitious attempt to combine intellectual concepts with the emotional energy of fiction, but in this case thought overpowers feeling.
"Intriguingly accompanied by reproductions of Schumann-Brahms ephemera, Ansay’s inventive exploration of this eternal romantic conundrum is equally paradoxical in its execution. Spare yet sumptuous, precise yet lavish, Ansay nimbly sifts historical fact through an admittedly autobiographical filter to deliver a richly textured study."
Miami Herald
"A poignant and arresting duet of the historic and the contemporary. . . . Ansay sprinkles bits of letters, photographs and drawings throughout the novel, a deft touch that adds to the book’s evocative moods of past and present."
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"A meditation on art and love in the European mode. . . . [Ansay] is a gifted and sure-handed storyteller."
Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Ansay’s novel addresses the important question of what role art plays in life. . . . The photos convey a more intimate account of history, as if the reader were flipping through a personal scrapbook belonging to Clara’s or Robert’s descendants."
Providence Journal-Bulletin
"In this pleasure of a book, two love stories are entwined. . . . Photos, scraps from letters and diaries, make this book a fascination. The questions posed by Hart and Jeannette are timeless, as Ansay has them debate the true nature of the Clara-Johannes relationship."
South Florida Sun Sentinel
"GOOD THINGS I WISH YOU leaves no variation unexplored, and its delicate melody lingers after the final page."
Stewart O'Nan
"Reminiscent of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Good Things I Wish You employs a rich and daring metafictional spin on one of the great romances in history to investigate passion and love—and what doesn’t change between women and men. Manette Ansay takes great risks to deliver great rewards."
Diana Abu-Jaber
"Good Things I Wish You is a lyrical, haunting exploration of loves past and present. Witty, sprightly, surprising, this deeply original and utterly captivating new novel by A. Manette Ansay beguiles the senses and dazzles the heart. A beautiful book."

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Meet the Author

A. Manette Ansay is the author of eight books, including Vinegar Hill, Midnight Champagne (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Blue Water. She has received the Pushcart Prize, two Great Lakes Book Awards, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. She teaches in the MFA writing program at the University of Miami.

Brief Biography

Port Washington, Wisconsin; now lives in New York City
Date of Birth:
Place of Birth:
Lapeer, Michigan
MFA, Cornell University, 1991

Read an Excerpt

Good Things I Wish You
A Novel

Chapter One

My first date in nineteen years was nearly an hour late. The hostess had brought me two messages, each one saying he was only minutes away, but he was coming from Lauderdale, and even without traffic, that's a long haul to West Palm, where we were meeting in an open-air-restaurant. Small tables. Wicker chairs. Below, in a courtyard planted with coconut palms, colorful jets of water rose and fell like expectations. I took another roll from the bread basket, ordered a glass of wine. The dating service, one which demanded lots of money to keep everything off the Internet, had assured me that Hart was "handsome, honest, and caring." Once a week, twice a week, a young woman named America called with yet another recommendation, and all of her recommendations were men who were "handsome, honest, and caring.""He's an entrepreneur," America had added this time.

"That can mean anything."

"He's forty-seven years old. He has a ten-year-old daughter."

I could tell she was reading from her screen. In the background, other girls just like her...fresh voiced, eager...encouraged other clients.

"He lives too far away," I'd said. "And what kind of name is Heart?"

"H-a-r-t. He enjoys classical music and good conversation. I'm looking at his picture, and he's cute."

"But we'd never see each other."

"If you two kids hit it off," America said brightly, "you'll figure something out."

I was, at the time, forty-two years old; I'd signed up for this service several months earlier, but I'd yet to agree to a date. Too busy, I'd kept telling myself, and this wasn't exactly a lie. There was my job atthe university. There was the novel I was supposed to be writing about the nineteenth-century German pianist and composer Clara Schumann and her forty-odd-year relationship with Johannes Brahms. There was my four-year-old daughter, Heidi. There was also the fact that, since my divorce had been finalized, I'd been finding it difficult to make decisions of any kind. Should I put the house on the market? Should I buy green apples or red? Should I find an outside piano teacher for Heidi or keep teaching her myself? The previous week, with the help of my new friend Ellen, I'd finally boxed up the last of Cal's things, odds and ends he'd been promising to collect for months: a framed map of Massachusetts, a shoe box full of pens, an assortment of holiday gifts...candles, boxed jellies, joking plaques...from various junior high students. A swan-necked lamp that had belonged to his mother. Period boots and belts and jackets. Faded T-shirts printed with the dates and -locations of Revolutionary War reenactments. Ellen pulled a tomahawk from a dark leather pouch; she wore a man's powdered wig on her head.

"What do you miss about this guy?" she'd said.

"Everything," I'd said. "And nothing."

Now, as the waitress arrived with my wine, I considered what to do with the boxes. Should I mail them to Calvin? Leave them at the graffiti-spattered Goodwill trailer next to the I-95 overpass? Wait until he picked up Heidi for the weekend, insist he take everything along? Each of these options seemed fraught with consequences, all of them unpleasant and inevitable. The box would be lost. I'd be carjacked at gunpoint. Calvin would be angry. The rational part of my brain, the part I recognized, reminded me that I was being ridiculous. But the other part...its nervous newborn twin...was persistent, hungry for disaster. One wrong step, one bad choice, and the worst would happen, the earth would swallow me whole, and if that happened, when that happened, what would become of Heidi? Each night, I got up to check windows and doors, making certain that everything was locked. I stayed off the phone during storms. I'd stopped taking vitamins, worried about choking, about Heidi finding me dead on the floor.

By the time Hart showed up, I'd finished my wine as well as the contents of the bread basket. My first impression was that he was utterly exhausted: ashen-faced, pale- lipped, a quietly aging man. I was looking tired myself these days, the bags beneath my eyes worse than usual. Already you have something in common, said the thin, ironic voice inside my head, and I wished I had left ten minutes earlier, the way I'd wanted to. I should have been at home, tucking Heidi into bed. I should have been reading student manuscripts. I should have been going through the hundreds of pages I'd already written on Clara and Brahms, all of them perfectly fine pages of writing, and not a single one of them right. Not a single one offering fresh insight into the questions others had already asked.

What was the true nature of their relationship?

Why did the two never marry, even after Robert Schumann's death?

"This will never work," Hart announced, voicing my own thoughts as he sank into a chair. "It is over an hour to get here."

He spoke with a light German accent. Maybe Czech. Too bad I'd never know which. "I told them the distance was a problem," I said, reaching for my purse.

He glanced at me without interest. "You are leaving?"

"My sitter goes home at eight."

"It is seven."

"The traffic."


German, I decided. My parents spoke it as children. Of course they stopped when they started school, and then there was the war. Growing up, I'd begged for German words as if they were pieces of hard candy, delicious but unwholesome somehow, certain to rot my teeth.

"I could eat something quick," I said, wavering. Perhaps he might be someone who could help me with translations. "Maybe some soup."

"You like soup?"

"Why not soup?"

He touched the empty bread basket. "You seem to like bread, too."

The waiter nearly tripped in his eagerness to get to our table, and I took a second look at my date: expensive watch, tailored shirt, full head of curly dark hair. This was a man who would always be led to the table marked Reserved. I made up my mind to dislike him. The waiter stood ready with his pen.

"I must have more than just soup," Hart said. "I am coming straight from work."

"I also came from work." It seemed important to establish that I, too, had been put out.

Good Things I Wish You
A Novel
. Copyright © by A. Ansay. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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