The Scenic Route

The Scenic Route

4.0 10
by Binnie Kirshenbaum
     
 

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Divorced, alone, and unexpectedly unemployed, Sylvia Landsman flees to Italy, where she meets Henry, a wistful, married, middle-aged expatriate. Taking off on a grand tour of Europe bankrolled with his wife's money, Henry and Sylvia follow a circuitous route around the continent—as Sylvia entertains Henry with stories of her peculiar family and her damaged

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Overview

Divorced, alone, and unexpectedly unemployed, Sylvia Landsman flees to Italy, where she meets Henry, a wistful, married, middle-aged expatriate. Taking off on a grand tour of Europe bankrolled with his wife's money, Henry and Sylvia follow a circuitous route around the continent—as Sylvia entertains Henry with stories of her peculiar family and her damaged friends, of dead ducks and Alma Mahler. Her narrative is a tapestry of remembrances and regrets...and her secret shame: a small, cowardly sin of omission. Yet when the opportunity arises for Sylvia and Henry to do something small but brave, the refrain "if only" returns to haunt her, leaving Sylvia with one more story of love lived and lost.

Editorial Reviews

Ron Charles
…continually engaging, the illusion of artlessness that only the disciplined artist can carry off…Kirshenbaum has endowed her narrator with the raconteur's greatest gift, that sense of imminent revelation that keeps us from wondering, "Are we there yet?" Spiked with wit, scrubbed free of sentimentality, these tales of love and loss, courage and cowardice, transport us back into the pages of our own lives and our own families. "There is cruelty to memory," Sylvia says, "the way there is an ache after a dream." So true, and just the sort of insight that makes this bittersweet novel a perfect companion for summer.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

It takes skill and assurance to pull off this beguiling narrative-by-digression, a love story-cum-family history-cum-confession of sins, and Kirshenbaum (An Almost Perfect Moment) has both in plentiful supply. A romantic affair begins in Fiesole when narrator Sylvia Landsman, an out-of-work, 42-year-old New York divorcée, meets debonair Henry Stafford, a Southern-born expatriate with expensive tastes and a good nose for wine. At the outset, Henry reveals that he is married to a rich woman who permits his lavish expenditures, and yet Sylvia-cynical, wry and imbued with Jewish guilt-dares to hope that Henry will be the man who changes her life. While the lovers enact a contemporary Two for the Road in his green Peugeot, Sylvia entertains Henry with stories about her eccentric family, meanwhile disclosing her own foibles and hang-ups-including some portents about betraying her best friend, Ruby. Sylvia segues from comedic quips to sad aperçus, and from cultural markers to historical vignettes, finally confessing the sin of omission that ended her friendship with Ruby. What's crushing isn't Sylvia's secret-it's how knowledge hasn't made her wiser. There are no happy endings here; instead, Kirshenbaum delivers capital-T truths. (May)

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Library Journal

Award-winning author Kirshenbaum (e.g., A Disturbance in One Place) here blends the story of a love affair with one character's recollection of her immediate and ancestral family. While on vacation and with her future plans adrift, Sylvia Landsman-divorced, American, and Jewish-meets Henry, an expatriate living in Europe who also has ample time on his hands. Initial strong mutual attraction prompts these two to begin traveling Europe's back roads together, with Henry at the wheel. During their excursion from town to town and villa to villa, Sylvia relates the story of her life and her family's background. What she reveals is both humorous and at times disturbing. The shifts between past and present can be abrupt and disconcerting, but they become less problematic as the novel progresses. Ultimately, Kirshenbaum seems to be telling us that it is perhaps this filling in of all the gaps, when the future is uncertain, that allows love to grow. Recommended for all academic fiction collections and larger public libraries.
—M. Neville

Kirkus Reviews
Kirshenbaum's distinctive voice transforms a lightly plotted novel into an enchanting, tangent-strewn meditation on memory, love and luck. When Sylvia (a 40-ish, divorced Manhattanite) looses her job, she decides to visit Italy on a lark. In Florence she meets Henry at a cafe, and the two fall into something-maybe love, maybe not-but either way, they hop into his car and go. Henry's heiress wife is off in India with her guru, leaving Henry alone, as he often is. With a taste for expensive drink, good food and fancy hotels, he knows how to show a girl a good time. The two have a map of Europe, time and lots of his wife's money to spend, and so as they drive from one cobblestone village to the next, Sylvia tells Henry stories. Many about her peculiar relatives (mental illness is a distinguishing family feature); about her mother's death and her father's new girlfriend; about Raisinets and the many romances of Alma Schindler; about the broken heart of Aunt Semille; about pet cemeteries and war cemeteries and her not entirely terrible childhood; and finally, repeatedly, about her best friend Ruby, who pops in and out of their ongoing conversation about love and life. The novel's first line foretells the end of the romance, so the narrative is a meandering, slightly sorrowful account of two people in love, but not quite brave enough to come up with a plan for a shared future. Lovely prose and quirky observations carry Kirshenbaum's seventh novel (An Almost Perfect Moment, 2004, etc.). Author appearances in New York City and at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs
Washington Post: Book World
“Spiked with wit, scrubbed free of sentimentality, these tales of love and loss, courage and cowardice, transport us back into the pages of our own lives and our own families ...[The Scenic Route is] a perfect companion for summer.”
Boston Globe
“Life, storytelling, and memory all take us down long and winding roads. Binnie Kirshenbaum deftly explores the intersections of the three in ‘The Scenic Route,’ her bittersweet fifth novel about lost love and friendship.”
Los Angeles Times
“Tremendously readable...miraculously, Kirshenbaum avoids sentimentality.”
More Magazine
“[A] moving, bittersweet novel.”
The Daily Beast
“Binnie Kirshenbaum’s witty, insightful European road novel turns the midlife-crisis-romance genre on its head.”
Time Out New York
“Introspective, mordant and entertaining, The Scenic Route is a road-trip drama that eloquently articulates its characters’ conflicting desires.”
Booklist
“Absurdly underrated Kirshenbaum is at her darkly comic and boldly encompassing best here, diverting us with hairpin-turn humor while slipping us hard truths about memory and inheritance, betrayal and guilt, and the inevitable end of the road.”
MoreMagazine
"[A] moving, bittersweet novel."
Gary Shteyngart
“Binnie Kirshenbaum is a fearlessly unsentimental storyteller, a gifted comic writer and a thoughtful archeologist of family life. The Scenic Route is warm, wise, and very difficult to put down.”
Joyce Carol Oates
“I’m much impressed with Binnie Kirshenbaum’s THE SCENIC ROUTE, an idiosyncratic and totally winning ‘romance,’ in which sentiment and cynicism are poised in a most virtuoso performance.”
Richard Ford
"The Scenic Route is a witty and poignant, and also an extremely interesting and acute, novel. Ms. Kirshenbaum mines a very rich seam that’s entirely her own. This is first-rate writing by a novelist who gracefully defies classification."
Junot Diaz
“Binnie Kirshenbaum is a tremendous talent. Her novels are sexy, intelligent, complex, and provocative; they press against your heart the way old lovers do.”
—Richard Ford
“The Scenic Route is a witty and poignant, and also an extremely interesting and acute, novel. Ms. Kirshenbaum mines a very rich seam that’s entirely her own. This is first-rate writing by a novelist who gracefully defies classification.”
Washington Post: Book World
"Spiked with wit, scrubbed free of sentimentality, these tales of love and loss, courage and cowardice, transport us back into the pages of our own lives and our own families ...[The Scenic Route is] a perfect companion for summer."

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061879302
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
05/12/2009
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
801,380
File size:
1 MB

What People are saying about this

Junot Diaz
“Binnie Kirshenbaum is a tremendous talent. Her novels are sexy, intelligent, complex, and provocative; they press against your heart the way old lovers do.”
Joyce Carol Oates
“I’m much impressed with Binnie Kirshenbaum’s THE SCENIC ROUTE, an idiosyncratic and totally winning ‘romance,’ in which sentiment and cynicism are poised in a most virtuoso performance.”
Richard Ford
“The Scenic Route is a witty and poignant, and also an extremely interesting and acute, novel. Ms. Kirshenbaum mines a very rich seam that’s entirely her own. This is first-rate writing by a novelist who gracefully defies classification.”
Gary Shteyngart
“Binnie Kirshenbaum is a fearlessly unsentimental storyteller, a gifted comic writer and a thoughtful archeologist of family life. The Scenic Route is warm, wise, and very difficult to put down.”

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