Leeway Cottage

Leeway Cottage

3.6 18
by Beth Gutcheon

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In April 1940, as the Nazis march into Denmark, Sydney Brant, a wealthy girl of the Dundee summer colony, marries a gifted Danish pianist, Laurus Moss. They believe they are well matched, as young lovers do, but Laurus's beloved family is in Copenhagen, hostage to what the fortunes of Hitler's war will bring. By the time the war is over, Laurus's family has played

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In April 1940, as the Nazis march into Denmark, Sydney Brant, a wealthy girl of the Dundee summer colony, marries a gifted Danish pianist, Laurus Moss. They believe they are well matched, as young lovers do, but Laurus's beloved family is in Copenhagen, hostage to what the fortunes of Hitler's war will bring. By the time the war is over, Laurus's family has played an active role in Denmark's grassroots rescue of virtually all seven thousand of the country's Jews. Meanwhile, in America, Sydney has led a group knitting for the war effort, and had a baby.

Combining the story of one long American twentieth-century marriage with one of the most stirring stories of World War II, Leeway Cottage is a beautifully written tour de force of a novel.

Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
“Stirring…The World War II saga anchors the novel, giving it resonance beyond the family dramas Gutcheon tells so well.”
“A gentle, even tender book. Every reader will be wiser for it.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“A rich saga of an American family told with moving clarity.”
“Gutcheon’s tale is more than just a story of a marriage; it’s a metaphor for an era.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“A great drama, cinematically told…[Gutcheon] writes elegantly about the complex bonds of family.”
Pages Magazine
“A remarkably rich and emotionally jarring novel filled ultimately with hope.”
Boston Globe
“[E]nthralling . . . triumphant and true.”
Times Leader
“A compelling and deeply felt reading experience.”
New York Newsday
“Pure storytelling…[Gutcheon’s] characters and settings are alive, sparkling with deft touches of period detail…riveting…vibrant.”
New York Times Book Review
“Absorbing…Daring…Gutcheon has strong narrative skills.”
Time Magazines Leader
"A compelling and deeply felt reading experience."
Liesl Schillinger
It's daring when a writer undertakes a story with intentionally unlikable main characters; Anthony Trollope was one of the very few to pull it off, in The Eustace Diamonds. Fortunately, Gutcheon has strong narrative skills, so while Leeway Cottage' doesn't approach the breathless, involving hurtle of Trollope, it's absorbing, mostly because of the subplot about the Danes' remarkable efforts to save the country's Jews (almost all of whom survived the war, despite the German occupation).
— The New York Times
Library Journal
In Gutcheon's latest (after More Than You Know), Annabelle Sydney Brant grows up adored by her father and largely criticized by her mother. The best times of her life are spent in the family summer home, Leeway Cottage, in Dundee, ME. After her father's death, a miserable Sydney moves to New York City to study music in an act of rebellion against her mother's superficial lifestyle. There, she falls in love with Laurus Moss, a Danish pianist whom she eventually marries. When World War II breaks out, Laurus moves to London to help build the Danish Resistance and save Denmark's Jews from Nazi extermination. Meanwhile, Sydney gives birth to a daughter who, sadly, will not meet her father until the war is over. Though Sydney turns into a woman not unlike the mother she despises, her marriage endures. Gutcheon tells brave stories of the Danish people, including grim scenes set in concentration camps. A curious combination of a World War II historical/ summer house novel, this is a good old-fashioned, all-encompassing read, with tears and smiles guaranteed. Recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/05.]-Keddy Ann Outlaw, Harris Cty. P.L., Houston Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The wounds inflicted by bad parenting, the complexities of a flawed but enduring marriage, and Denmark's resistance to the Nazis: three compelling themes awkwardly yoked together in this ambitious latest from Gutcheon (More Than You Know, 2000, etc.). The author's gift for plunging readers directly into her story is evident on the first page, as three siblings sort through the belongings of their parents, who have died together in the family's summer home. Gutcheon then moves back to trace the history of Leeway Cottage in Maine and the miserable childhood of Sydney Brant, anxious daughter of cold, disapproving Candace. In 1938, Sydney falls in love with expatriate Danish pianist Laurus Moss, drawn to his warmth and delighted to shock her snobbish mother by marrying the grandson of a baker. The newlyweds spend a happy summer at Leeway in 1941, but when Laurus leaves a pregnant Sydney that fall to aid the European war effort, the narrative takes a sharp, startling turn. Sydney drops out almost completely for a hundred pages devoted to Laurus's family, particularly his sister Nina, one of the many Danes who risk their lives and save nearly all of the nation's Jews. By the time Nina is liberated from Ravensbruck concentration camp and Laurus returns to America, the grim Danish section has laid the groundwork for an entirely different perspective on Sydney. The unloved girl who seemed so appealing is revealed as a damaged, angry and selfish woman, though Gutcheon deftly drops in a few admirable acts to remind us no one is entirely good or all bad. Laurus remains steadfastly loyal, to the bewilderment of their three children as the narrative moves with increasing speed and selectiveness throughthe subsequent half-century. A harrowing account of Nina's ordeal at Ravensbruck makes an odd precursor to the final chapter at Leeway. Yet Gutcheon's insights are so keen, her sympathy for all her characters so contagious, that the story's imperfect structure can almost be forgiven. There's more going on here than the narrative can comfortably contain, but Gutcheon gets an A for effort and a solid B for achievement.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
Edition description:
P.S. Insights, Interviews and More
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

The funeral is over. The ashes, in matching urns, are on the mantelpiece. There is no way to know whose last will or testament is in force, so they have decided to close the house as always, and leave it for the winter. Next summer, when the flood tides of memories and mourning currently swamping them have receded, they will be better able to cope. They have decided that each of them will take home one thing from Leeway for the winter, for comfort. They are going through the house somberly, saying their goodbyes in their different ways, each looking for one object that will keep the dead alive and close a little longer.

In the back of a closet in the upstairs hall, Eleanor opens an ancient garment bag and finds a shapeless and tarnished handful of ribbons and tulle. She gives a shriek.

Monica and Jimmy emerge from back bedrooms. "What is that?"

"It's The Dress!"

"She kept it all these years?"

The three of them stare at it, the debutante dress of legend. It is more of a rag than the couture dream they had imagined. Eleanor puts it back on the hanger and zips it back up in its bag, where it will wait, ready to be called as evidence in a yet-to-be-settled case of outrage in which all the principal parties are now dead.

Although none of them has said so, what each of them most wants to take home is the houseguest book.

Monica finds it.

"I've decided," she calls from the dining room.

Eleanor comes in from the big living room where she has been scanning the bookshelves, and sees her sister holding the very thing she was looking for.

"Finders keepers," says Monica.

"Where was it?"

Jimmy is coming down the stairs.

"In there," says Monica, pointing to an antique tavern table their parents used as a sideboard. "In the drawer."

Jimmy walks in holding a framed picture of their father and mother sitting in the stern of The Rolling Stone. They are at anchor in some island cove, Burnt Coat, or Pretty Marsh. The sunset flares gold on the water behind them, and they are tanned and happy, holding cocktails and wearing sunglasses and smiles. Jimmy has been about to announce this as his choice when he sees the guest book in Monica's hand.

"I was looking for that!" he says.

"It turns out we all were," says Eleanor.

"Where was it?"

The sisters point to the tavern table.

"I say 'finders keepers,' " says Monica.

"Unless one of us owns the table." Their mother has employed her sunset years in wandering around the house promising things to people, often the same thing two or three times, and applying stickers delivering her orders from beyond the grave.

Eleanor kneels down to peer under the table. She pulls her head out and reaches for the glasses on a cord around her neck. She pokes her head under again and reads, " 'Property of James Brant Moss.' " She stands up and looks at her sister, and they both say, "Oh, surprise."

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