Poison

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Overview

A tour de force about marriage, deceit, and envy, "rich in fairy tale imagery and in vivid metaphors" (Publishers Weekly).
The death of flamboyant writer and womanizer Peter Grosvenor sets in motion a series of spiraling events surrounding his legacy and his estate. His bitter third wife, his two children, his sister, his friends, and his would-be biographers are drawn into a maelstrom of intense memories and painful encounters as each of the major players in Peter's life seeks ...

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Overview

A tour de force about marriage, deceit, and envy, "rich in fairy tale imagery and in vivid metaphors" (Publishers Weekly).
The death of flamboyant writer and womanizer Peter Grosvenor sets in motion a series of spiraling events surrounding his legacy and his estate. His bitter third wife, his two children, his sister, his friends, and his would-be biographers are drawn into a maelstrom of intense memories and painful encounters as each of the major players in Peter's life seeks to appropriate Peter's estate for his or her own purposes. As a complex story of passion, jealousy, and loss unfolds, the figures that had once blossomed in Peter's presence spin off into their own orbits and turn against one another without the anchor of his charismatic presence. Ultimately, the tragedy and scandal that marred his life cannot be ended even by his death. Susan Fromberg Schaeffer writes with exquisite flavor and measure; character, history, and relationships build into a large, minutely detailed canvas and remind us why she is a master of the epic novel. Reading group guide included.

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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune
“Utterly fascinating fiction....a novel in which nearly everything happens in terms of the range of human behavior and emotions....[Schaeffer] deftly takes us in and out of the minds of all her characters, exposing their vulnerabilities, neuroses, psychoses, fears, anxieties, agendas.”
Booklist
“Schaeffer is a masterful storyteller, revealing the innermost lives of her meticulously created characters until we know them better than we know ourselves....Schaeffer's extraordinarily insightful and stylish prose alone makes this worth reading.”
Ellen Feldman
“Poison reads as if Virginia Woolf had taken a surgeon's scalpel and cut to the heart of a literary legend.”
Publishers Weekly
In her 14th novel, Schaeffer (The Snow Fox) unfurls a sprawling inheritance saga loosely based on the turbulent life and loves of poet Ted Hughes. Writer Peter Grosvenor has always been almost as famous for his womanizing as he is for his poetry. After his first wife, the brilliant poet Evelyn Graves, and his second wife, Elfie, both kill themselves by means of the gas oven, Peter considers himself cursed, poisonous to women. Years later, after his death, Peter's more conventional but aggrieved third wife, Meena, desperate to preserve her wealth and keep up appearances, engages in a battle of wills with Peter's two grown children Sophie and Andrew; his sister, Sigrid; and his would-be biographer, as well as with the woman who might be Peter's last, true love. Rich in fairy tale imagery and in vivid metaphors, the narrative sometimes verges on stream of consciousness, as the text moves through the thoughts of all the major characters as well as those of Peter's anthropomorphized rambling English country cottage, Willow Grove. Despite the pettiness of these wealthy intellectuals, the novel's meditations on the nature of love and marriage and the demands of fame and art emerge as golden glimmers from the dust of a dark life story. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Schaeffer's last novel was set in medieval Japan (The Snow Fox); here, she travels closer to home with a story of bereavement and intrigue among modern Anglo-American literati. Celebrity writer Peter Grosvenor (who bears more than a slight resemblance to the late English poet laureate Ted Hughes) has lost his struggle with cancer. He leaves a motley assortment of psychologically bruised survivors to cope with the fallout of a colorful, controversial career, including his notoriety as a lady killer both figuratively and literally. Behaving much like the carrion crows that fascinated Peter in life, his family, friends, and would-be biographers gather around the artistic remains and begin a desperate competition to control the poet's legacy. Schaeffer's adroit plotting and organization save the lengthy narrative from sprawl as numerous perspectives unfold and overlap. But the leisurely pace may discourage some readers, and the characterizations are uneven, most notably Peter himself, who seems oddly flat despite multiple assertions of his charismatic personality. Buy for comprehensive fiction collections and where demand for the author warrants. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/05.]-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The epic saga of a landmark British poet and his three wives, two of whom committed suicide. Schaeffer (The Snow Fox, 2004, etc.) seems to be making her own oblique contribution to the Ted Hughes/Sylvia Plath cottage industry via this vast, overwhelming vortex of a novel built on the life of promiscuous Peter Grovesnor, "a man with an immeasurable weakness for women" and a gargantuan gift for poetry. Less a narrative, more a spreading ink blot of reminiscence and reflection, the story, which always keeps Peter's death at its center, shifts its point-of-view between the perspectives of a range of family members and literary friends while also moving back and forth in time. Peter's first wife, Evelyn, was a manic and gifted American poet who gave birth to two children, Sophie and Andrew. Her decision to gas herself was subsequently copied by Peter's second wife, Elfie, who killed their daughter as well as herself. Needing a mother for Sophie and Andrew, Peter made a third-calculated, loveless-marriage to Meena, who bestrides the novel as gothically as any wicked stepmother. Hateful, malicious and martyred, Meena lies about Peter's last wishes in an attempt to disinherit both the children and Peter's sister Sigrid. Reaching toward myth in its interpersonal dynamics yet stalled as a work of storytelling, the book circles its group of living and dead, and its themes of talent, mortality and pain, to the point of exhaustion. Beyond the bickering, the suffering and the brooding, the principal interest lies in the degree to which Schaeffer's story is or is not a roman a clef. Peter, for all his purported charisma, seems the least vivid figure here. A massive, speculative, ornamental flourish inthe margins of literary history. Skillfully written, but more obsessive than compulsive.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393329797
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/28/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 608
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

Susan Fromberg Schaeffer (1940 - 2011) was a Professor of English and author of fourteen novels, six poetry collections, and other works.

Biography

Susan Fromberg Schaeffer's was known for her poetry and novels, which include Anya, Buffalo Afternoon, and The Madness of a Seduced Woman. Born in Brooklyn, she attended the University of Chicago in the '60s. She returned to New York City in 1967 to teach at Brooklyn College, where she met her husband, Neil Schaeffer. In 2002, the Schaeffers moved back to Chicago, where Susan served as a visiting professor in the English and Creative Writing departments at the University of Chicago. She died in 2011 at the age of 71.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Schaeffer:

"I am a very reclusive person. This is absolutely true. I can spend weeks at a time in the house and I don't mind at all. When I'm working, I become the world's worst correspondent, don't answer letters and barely make phone calls. I begin to think of the world outside as hermetically sealed, unreachable. This is hard on my friends who think I have either died or forgotten about them entirely. When I finish working for the day, I think about this and am swamped by guilt, but I've never been able to change my ways."

"My first job was horrible, and it was a good thing it was the only job I could get at the time. I worked in Boston for a publisher in the medical order department. By ten-thirty in the morning, I was finished with the day's work, and I had to spend the rest of the day appearing to be busy. After that, I was determined to finish my degrees and never have to have such a job again—although I did have one such job after I finished my Ph.D."

"My mother insisted I work during the summer before I began working at Brooklyn College, and I ended up at a religious T.V. station where scripts had to be typed scrupulously so that the minister did not find himself reading, ‘And the minister pauses here for an advertisement.' The T.V. station was very pleased with me, but I had a headache the entire time I was there. Since then, what headaches I've had were brought on only by me."

"I love old things—people, furniture, photographs. Old people know so much. Old artifacts appear to be trying to tell the stories of their lives and often inspire stories, if not novels, of their own. Time in Its Flight began when I found a picture of a child who was in his bed but who had been photographed by a photographer standing outside of the house who took the picture through a window."

"When I asked why anyone would have photographed a sleeping child while standing outside, the man who owned the picture said that was a ‘mourning picture.' The child had died, was probably contagious, and could only safely be photographed from a distance. I was struck by the difference in the nineteenth century's attitude toward death and my own. ‘There are a lot of pictures of dead children,' the owner told me, ‘and a lot of people who collect them. People took hair from someone who died and wove the hair into flowers and wreaths. People collect those, too.' I still have the first mourning picture I saw. It grew directly into Time in Its Flight."

"I collect far too many things because each one always seems as if it's about to tell me a story. There must be an incredible cacophony in my house that I no longer notice because by now, I've grown used to it."

"I love dolls' houses. When I first began writing novels, I would invariably begin work on another dolls' house. My third novel, Time in Its Flight, must be one of the longest novels in the world, and during the time I worked on it, I created two dolls' houses and populated them with tiny dolls, each wearing Victorian costumes. When I look at the dolls, I still can't believe I had the patience. But there is something about creating a little world as you create a dolls' house. The making of a dolls' house involves enormous concentration and I would work out how I needed to write a novel while I was constructing it."

"I hate deadlines. I'm always sure I'm going to miss them and am convinced that if I miss so much as one deadline, I will never meet another one again. This is because I believe myself to be a basically lazy person. Instead of missing deadlines, I finish everything early and then fume when other people don't tell me what they think of my work at once."

"Life often seems impossible (I can't be the only person who often thinks this), and at such times, the solution is weather. If it is raining or snowing, I watch the rain or the snow fall. If I am stuck when writing, I get out of the house and go to The Point and watch the waves in Lake Michigan. Sometimes simply standing on the back porch and feeling the cold air sting my skin is enough. Weather is a remarkable thing. It is always there and it is always different."

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    1. Date of Birth:
      March 25, 1941
    2. Place of Birth:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      August 26, 2011
    2. Place of Death:
      Chicago, Illinois
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Chicago, 1961; M.A., University of Chicago, 1963; Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1966
    2. Website:

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2006

    Another wonderful read

    I've read more than a dozen of the author's works and she continues to produce lovely fiction. Don't miss this one. You'll be hooked and your library of her works will grow and grow.

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