Matters of Chance: A Novelby Jeannette Haien
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/b>
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.
Read an Excerpt
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."
"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."
"Is it the page you were reading when I intruded upon your covert pleasure?"
"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--"
"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?"
"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."
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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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.