A Jewish refugee from Austria nurses a forbidden love for the much younger daughter of his American employer in this piercing, unusual novel by Brown (Rose's Garden; The Hatbox Baby) set in the suburban northeast in the years after WWII. Arthur Henning makes a hair-raising escape from Austria with his nine-year-old son, Toby, and later his wife, Anna, is killed in London in the Blitz. Haunted by memories of her and the trauma of Nazi persecution, Henning makes his way to the U.S., where he becomes the chauffeur and caretaker who tends to the estate of the Duvall family just outside New York. He finally channels his emotions into a deep love for the Duvall's precocious daughter, Agatha, after she becomes pregnant by an unknown suitor and is banished to a home for unwed mothers at the age of 17. Brown slowly develops their unusual friendship, rendering it in rich emotional detail. The edge in the plot comes from Henning's teenage son, Toby, who wants to see his father break away from the dysfunctional Duvall family and carve out a new life of his own. The final revelation regarding Toby's relationship with Agatha is fairly predictable, and some of the time shifts get a bit jittery when Brown dramatizes Henning's climactic separation from Agatha. But Brown's deft shaping of their unconventional love makes the novel haunting and memorable, and Henning's unusual decision to track the infant after Agatha gives birth adds some dark surprises down the stretch. Author tour. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Confinement is not only the title of this thoughtful and haunting novel; it is also the prevailing theme, the glue that holds the characters together. First we meet Arthur Henning, widower and survivor of Nazi Europe, who flees to America with his young son, Toby. Hired by the Duvall family to be their chauffeur, gardener, and handyman, Arthur finds peace in the cottage on their estate. Here, Arthur and Toby slowly recover from their trauma, surrounded by idyllic countryside and the companionship of the mansion's kitchen servants and the Duvalls' young daughter, Aggie. As Arthur watches Toby and Aggie grow up safe and strong, a new life seems possible. However, the idyllic setting hides an undercurrent of confinement. Each character is trapped in his or her own individual way. As a teen, Aggie finds herself pregnant. The events brought on by the pregnancy tear apart both families. Aggie is dispatched to a home for unwed mothers to cover her parents' shame and to dispose of the child. Toby vanishes, and the Duvalls slowly implode. Shocked by the heartlessness of the Duvalls, yet afraid of losing his comfortable position, Arthur suffers in quiet, powerless misery. Only when faced with the threat of once again losing everything, does Arthur begin to create a future. Brown reveals Arthur's haunted, inner world in layers, switching between flashback, daydreams, and the present. It is a tale of fear and guilt, emotional survival, and the redemptive power of love. 2004, Algonquin Books, 368 pp. Ages young adult. Reviewer: Amy Fiske
Brown's latest novel (after The Hatbox Baby) deals with loss; the "confinement" of the title suggests not only the time spent by the teenaged Aggie at a home for unwed mothers but also the self-imposed confinement of the protagonist, Arthur, a Viennese immigrant who works as chauffeur and groundskeeper for Aggie's family. It's hard not to care about these likable characters, but, unfortunately, the book's structure impedes the momentum and the reader's emotions. Brown also overuses flashback, which constantly interrupts the flow of the narrative while giving away far too much in the opening chapters. We know almost all the essential plot elements up front, leaving little in the way of surprise or suspense for the last two-thirds of the book. Literary fiction should be more about character than plot, but not at the expense of storytelling. A marginal purchase.-Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Lib., Minneapolis Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-When Arthur Henning and his young son, Toby, arrive at the Duvall family's New York country estate one wintry night in 1946, Arthur is resolutely ready to start his new life as a chauffeur. At the onset of the Holocaust, he and his family fled to London from Vienna, but his wife and their infant daughter were killed in the Blitz. Arthur and Toby befriend Agatha, the Duvalls' daughter; when she becomes pregnant, Mr. Duvall asks his chauffeur to drive her to a home for unwed mothers. Arthur refuses to desert her, and in this act of selflessness begins to break through his own confinement of memories and overwhelming obligations to the past and the present. Brown's exquisitely written novel is a complex exploration of the horror and aftermath of war, and also of love, redemption, and the peace one makes with oneself. The book is filled with vivid history, but without a trace of sentimentality. The writing is most lyrical when the novel turns to Arthur's thoughts and memories. His transformation causes him to realize how fragile and tenacious hope is. Readers will find this story compelling and powerful, and will care about the characters' fates.-Susanne Bardelson, Kitsap Regional Library, WA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Brooding and elegiac account of an Austrian refugee who begins a new life in America but can't get free of either his troubled memories or his bad luck. A Jewish tailor born and raised in Vienna, Arthur Henning escaped the Nazis and made it to London in 1939-only to have his wife and baby daughter killed there during the bombardments a year later. After the war, Arthur and his surviving son Toby emigrate to America, where Arthur finds work as chauffeur to a wealthy businessman named Duvall, who keeps a large country estate outside New York. It's a quiet life very much to Arthur's liking, especially after the turmoil of the war years, but the clouds soon gather. Duvall's daughter Aggie becomes pregnant by Toby, is sent to a home for unwed mothers, and then forced to put her child up for adoption. Brown (The Hatbox Baby, 2000; stories: The House on Belle Isle, 2002, etc.) tells her story in an elliptical series of flashbacks, so these bare facts are given at the start. But as we move back and forth across the years with Arthur (who knows-but doesn't reveal-where his grandson now lives), we come bit by bit to understand the real depth of pain suffered by all the parties in this affair. For Duvall (whose daughter refuses to reveal the identity of the father), it is a slap in the face; for Aggie (who grew up with Toby and loved Arthur more than her own father), it is a knife in the heart; and for Toby (who was never even told that Aggie was pregnant), it is a bald betrayal. For Arthur, however, it seems to be the culmination of a life of misery and failure, the high point of a grief that has never let up since Kristallnacht. Much too much: an elegant and intensely moving story gets bogged downin its own ruminations.