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Matters of Chance: A Novel

Matters of Chance: A Novel

5.0 1
by Jeannette Haien

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Matters of Chance is a glorious, aptivating novel about Morgan and Maude Shurtliff, who fall in love and marry in the years before World WarII. Unable to have children of their own, Morgan and Maude adopt twin girls. The four go home to their beautiful house in the country outside ofNew York City and begin to settle into what they hope will be a long and


Matters of Chance is a glorious, aptivating novel about Morgan and Maude Shurtliff, who fall in love and marry in the years before World WarII. Unable to have children of their own, Morgan and Maude adopt twin girls. The four go home to their beautiful house in the country outside ofNew York City and begin to settle into what they hope will be a long and happy life. When the twins are still young, Morgan is called to serve inWorld War II, leaving Maude to raise her daughters alone. Jeannette Haien has rendered Morgan's war experiences with astonishing detail, just as she has captured the American post-war era with a precision that is unrivaled in recent fiction.

Editorial Reviews

Detroit Free Press
A wonderful, absorbing novel reminiscent of Anthony Trollope.
Haien's remarkable evocation of war at sea, her nuanced perception of the complexities of a good marriage, and the grand sweep of her tale remind us of the deep pleasures of an old-fashioned read.
An engrossing saga...A richly detailed yarn, depicting an old world where along with privilege came honor, tradition, responsibility and duty...Jeannette Haien is a writer of vast compassion, and her characters are rich in something all too rare these days: dignity.
Ruth Coughlin
Haien charmingly takes us through more than three decades of one family's pleasures and sorrows. . .These people are old-fashioned in the best ways — they know that love is what counts and that italong with decency and compassionwill sustain them. —The New York Times Book Review
Chicago Tribune
The ebb and flow of happiness and sadness in this wonderfully drawn portrait of a good man in times of peril and pleasure is...completely satisfying...You feel the bite of real life. You feel the teeth.
Ft. Worth Star Telegram
'Masterpiece' is an apt description for Matters of Chance — the story of a couple whose family lives through World War II and the decades that follow in much the same way most families did: one day at a time.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Masterpiece is an apt description for Matters of Chance—the story of a couple whose family lives through World War II and the decades that follow in much the same way most families did: one day at a time.
New York Times Book Review
In Matters of Chance, Haien takes us through more than three decades if one family's pleasures and sorrows, detailing its members' enviable ability to accept the vagaries of fate. These people are old-fashioned in the best ways—they know that love is what counts and that it, along with decency and compassion, will sustain them.
Kirkus Reviews
A simplistic though satisfying and pretty much traditional family chronicle. The word 'saga' may be too dramatic to describe this history of the Shurtliff clan, since their lives are happily free of long-term suffering, shocking revelations, or mysterious people. Instead, Haien has crafted an old-fashioned tale in which nothing much happens but ordinary life. Beginning with the courtship and subsequent marriage of Maud and Morgan Shurtliff, two upper-crust Ohioans, the novel paints an attractive picture of the young couple, rich, kind, and deeply in love. The only shadow thrown across their lives is Maud's infertility, which leads the pair to the eccentric Miss Zenobia Sly and her Tilden-Herne Adoption Agency. They bring home happiness in the form of twin infant girls, Caroline and Julia. Soon after, WW II erupts, and the reader follows Morgan's ordeal in the Navy. After the war, a more somber Morgan returns home, picks up his law practice, and prospers; the girls grow; and the family buys a large manor house. All the while, Morgan keeps in contact with Miss Sly (against Maud's wishes: the elderly lady is a reminder of their girls' adoption), and the two form a warm, confidential (and platonic) friendship. Time passes. Not plot but character creates the charm here. Far from groundbreaking fiction, but a gratifying, companionable read nonetheless.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.01(d)

Read an Excerpt

November: 1925
Away from home for the first time at a boarding school he did not (then) much like, Morgan Shurtliff was a shy, lonely, fourteen-year-old dreamer, a bright though erratic student, a passionate reader.
He was seated in the back row of the classroom, his Latin book open on his desk but his eyes cast down, lower, into the region of his lap, where another book resided. "Sir?" he answered, looking up, forward, toward the lectern where Mr. Scudder, the Latin master, was standing.
"Are you with us, Shurtliff?"
"Yes, sir, I am."
"And just where do you think we are?"
"On page sixty-six, sir."
Mr. Scudder cleared his throat, then: "That was some time ago, Shurtliff. Since then, we, with Caesar and his legions, have trudged on. We are now encamped on page sixty-eight."
"Yes, sir."
"Tell me the name of the book on your lap."
"The Arrow of Gold, by Joseph Conrad, sir."
"Come forward, please, Shurtliff. Bring Mr. Conrad's book with you."
The silence in the room as he walked toward Mr. Scudder was of the weighted kind which precedes great moments.
He put the book in Mr. Scudder's outstretched hand.
"This page, Shurtliff--this one that's been dog-eared: look at it, please."
He did.
"Is it the page you were reading when I intruded upon your covert pleasure?"
"Yes, sir."
"And now, Shurtliff, as there are but a few minutes left in our class hour, and as we, even as you, enjoy a work of fiction, might you be so kind as to read aloud to us a paragraph or two of Mr. Conrad's prose?--starting, please, at the precise place you left off when I recalled you to the real world?"
"Yes, sir." He took The Arrow of Gold fromMr. Scudder.
"The precise place, Shurtliff--"
"Yes, sir."
"Oh . . . I almost forgot . . . When the bell rings, you won't mind staying on for a chat with me, will you?"
"Yes, sir. I mean, no, sir, of course I will."
"Good." Mr. Scudder folded his body into reclining position against his lectern. "Proceed, Shurtliff."
And so he began:
"The upward cast in the eyes of Mills who was facing the staircase made us both, Blunt and I, turn around. The woman of whom I had heard so much, in a sort of way in which I had never heard a woman spoken of before, was coming down the stairs, and my first sensation was that of profound astonishment at this evidence that she really did exist. And even then the visual impression was more of color in a picture than of the forms of actual life. She was wearing a wrapper, a sort of dressing-gown of pale blue silk embroidered with black and gold designs round the neck and down the front, lapped round her and held together by a broad belt of the same material. Her slippers were of the same color, with black bows at the instep. The white stairs, the deep crimson of the carpet, and the light blue of the dress made an effective combination of color to set off the delicate carnation of that face, which, after the first glance given to the whole person, drew irresistibly your gaze to itself by an indefinable quality of charm beyond all analysis and made you think of remote races, of strange generations, of the faces of women sculptured on immemorial monuments and of those lying unsung in their tombs. While she moved downward from step to step with slightly lowered eyes there flashed upon me suddenly the recollection of words heard at night, of Allegre's words about her, of there being in her 'something of the women of all time.'"
His throat being dry, Morgan paused to swallow.
All eyes shifted from him to Mr. Scudder, who, amazingly, was seen to be smiling. Furthermore, zephyr-like, there came forth from between his lips a low, drawn-out "Ahh--" which, as the exhaled breath of it ran out, was followed by the astonishing words: "Helen of Troy . . . Cleopatra . . . Petrarch's Laura . . . fair Beatrix . . . the eternal girl next door . . ." uttered slowly, in a milking, ruminative way. Then, still looking off, out the window, Mr. Scudder lapsed into silence.
The room, along with its transfixed occupants, waited.
The bell rang: a shattering trill.
At the sound, instantly, Mr. Scudder reacted with his usual master-to-dog look in the door's direction and the curt, unleashing words: "Class dismissed."
There ensued the noise and movement of departure.
Only Morgan remained in place. He stood, still as a statue, The Arrow of Gold clasped to his chest, the awful moment of censure upon him.
"Well, Shurtliff," Mr. Scudder began, "here we are, the two of us, left with Allegre's words echoing in our ears."
Morgan managed a weak: "Yes, sir."
"Relax," Mr. Scudder said.
In the circumstance, Morgan, though, could not.
"Let us agree, Shurtliff," Mr. Scudder recommenced, "that in future you will bring only your Latin book to this class."
Morgan nodded. "Yes, sir."
"I have your word on it?"
"Yes, sir."
"That's all then. You may go."
He could go! Had been told that he might. Yet he remained.
"What's your problem, Shurtliff?"
"I don't understand, sir."
"What, that I've let you off the hook?"
"Ah," Mr. Scudder murmured, "I see." Then, with an abstract smile: "Someday you'll understand, Shurtliff. Meanwhile, chalk it up to luck."
"If you say so, sir . . . Thank you."
"My pleasure."
In that seemingly unreal way, for the time being, the episode, as a portent, rested.

Meet the Author

Jeannette Haien is the author of the acclaimed novel The All of It , winner of the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In addition to her career as a writer, Jeannette Haien is well known as a concert pianist and teacher. She and her husband, a lawyer, live in New York City and Connemara, Ireland.

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Matters of Chance: A Novel 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book very enjoyable--I have told many people about it-It is refreshing and covers much territory without confusing you. I like the characters and I felt like I knew them.The only thing missing was Sylvia's background--I wanted to know about her life before she came into the picture-her love life mostly-the ending was not what I thought it would be-Great Book.