The Washington Post
The Scenic Routeby Binnie Kirshenbaum
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… See more details below
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.
The Washington Post
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)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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.
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