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Good Things I Wish You: A Novel

Good Things I Wish You: A Novel

3.5 10
by A. Manette Ansay

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“A lyrical, haunting exploration of loves past and present. Witty, sprightly, surprising, this deeply original and utterly captivating new novel … beguiles the senses and dazzles the heart. A beautiful book.” —Diana Abu-Jaber

“As the parallels between the two relationships multiply, the novel catches fire. . . . Ansay is a


“A lyrical, haunting exploration of loves past and present. Witty, sprightly, surprising, this deeply original and utterly captivating new novel … beguiles the senses and dazzles the heart. A beautiful book.” —Diana Abu-Jaber

“As the parallels between the two relationships multiply, the novel catches fire. . . . Ansay is a gifted and sure-handed storyteller.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

From the critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Vinegar Hill and Midnight Champagne comes a beautifully written story of two summer romances—one of a brilliant pianist, one of a struggling novelist—separated in time by nearly two centuries. If you enjoy the novels of Ann Patchett (Bel Canto), Claire Messud (The Emperor's Children), and Lionel Shriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin), you’ll find much to love in A. Manette Ansay’s stunningly original Good Things I Wish You.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In Ansay's slight new novel, Jeanette Hochmann is a recently divorced mother writing a novel based on the 40-year relationship between 19th-century German pianist Clara Schumann and her husband's protégé, composer Johannes Brahms. Through a dating service, Jeanette meets a German entrepreneur, Hart, and while they appear to have little in common, Hart's 16-year-old daughter-like Jeannette in her youth-is a budding musical prodigy, who lives in Leipzig near the former residence of the subject of Jeanette's book. Although Jeanette and Hart attempt to have a platonic friendship, it quickly (and predictably) evolves into more, and their lives begin to overlap with the characters of Jeanette's novel. The story is most compelling when examining the fascinating bond between the 19th-century musicians. Less compelling are the pages devoted to navigating the more mundane contemporary world of dating and Starbucks coffee runs. While the photographs, sketches and letters interspersed throughout the book provide interest and help to elevate the material, in the end, Ansay's novel feels piddling and ordinary. We know exactly where Hart and Jeanette's relationship is going, and as a result, it's a strain to get there. (July)

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Kirkus Reviews
From novelist and former concert pianist Ansay (Blue Water, 2006, etc.), metafiction about a novelist writing about pianist Clara Schumann. Clara is a fascinating subject. The greatest pianist of her day-think Britney Spears and Meryl Streep combined-she defies her father to marry composer Robert Schumann and largely gives up her career to be a mother and wife, devoted to Robert even when he goes mad. Along comes young Johannes Brahms. Clearly in love with Clara, he cares devotedly for Robert and the kids. Meanwhile Clara begins jumping at every chance to leave her family to go on tour. While Robert is in a sanitarium, Clara and Johannes travel together, apparently platonically, and exchange passionate letters, but once Robert conveniently dies, so does their passion. What remains is a mysterious, if abiding friendship. Unfortunately, fictional character Jeanette Hochmann, who is writing a novelized account of the musician's life, is less riveting. A divorced college professor and successful novelist devoted to her small daughter, Jeanette yearns for a man in her life as well as more free time to finish her book. Through a dating service she meets Hart, a divorced German doctor/entrepreneur. Coincidentally, they have planned trips to Leipzig at the same time, Jeanette to research Clara, Hart to visit his adolescent daughter, a musical prodigy he rarely gets to see since a nasty custody battle with his ex-wife. Jeanette writes her affair with Hart into her novel without telling him as their irritatingly ambiguous relationship evolves. Even when he proposes marriage to Jeanette, Hart cannot pretend to have the passionate kind of love he felt for his ex. That's what Jeanette claims shewants, but although she identifies with Clara's conflicting creative and emotional needs, what she really wants remains murky. An ambitious attempt to combine intellectual concepts with the emotional energy of fiction, but in this case thought overpowers feeling.
Miami Herald
“A poignant and arresting duet of the historic and the contemporary. . . . Ansay sprinkles bits of letters, photographs and drawings throughout the novel, a deft touch that adds to the book’s evocative moods of past and present.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“A meditation on art and love in the European mode. . . . [Ansay] is a gifted and sure-handed storyteller.”
“Intriguingly accompanied by reproductions of Schumann-Brahms ephemera, Ansay’s inventive exploration of this eternal romantic conundrum is equally paradoxical in its execution. Spare yet sumptuous, precise yet lavish, Ansay nimbly sifts historical fact through an admittedly autobiographical filter to deliver a richly textured study.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Ansay’s novel addresses the important question of what role art plays in life. . . . The photos convey a more intimate account of history, as if the reader were flipping through a personal scrapbook belonging to Clara’s or Robert’s descendants.”
Diana Abu-Jaber
Good Things I Wish You is a lyrical, haunting exploration of loves past and present. Witty, sprightly, surprising, this deeply original and utterly captivating new novel by A. Manette Ansay beguiles the senses and dazzles the heart. A beautiful book.”
Stewart O'Nan
“Reminiscent of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Good Things I Wish You employs a rich and daring metafictional spin on one of the great romances in history to investigate passion and love—and what doesn’t change between women and men. Manette Ansay takes great risks to deliver great rewards.”
Providence Journal-Bulletin
“In this pleasure of a book, two love stories are entwined. . . . Photos, scraps from letters and diaries, make this book a fascination. The questions posed by Hart and Jeannette are timeless, as Ansay has them debate the true nature of the Clara-Johannes relationship.”
South Florida Sun Sentinel
“GOOD THINGS I WISH YOU leaves no variation unexplored, and its delicate melody lingers after the final page.”

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt

Good Things I Wish You
A Novel

Chapter One

My first date in nineteen years was nearly an hour late. The hostess had brought me two messages, each one saying he was only minutes away, but he was coming from Lauderdale, and even without traffic, that's a long haul to West Palm, where we were meeting in an open-air-restaurant. Small tables. Wicker chairs. Below, in a courtyard planted with coconut palms, colorful jets of water rose and fell like expectations. I took another roll from the bread basket, ordered a glass of wine. The dating service, one which demanded lots of money to keep everything off the Internet, had assured me that Hart was "handsome, honest, and caring." Once a week, twice a week, a young woman named America called with yet another recommendation, and all of her recommendations were men who were "handsome, honest, and caring.""He's an entrepreneur," America had added this time.

"That can mean anything."

"He's forty-seven years old. He has a ten-year-old daughter."

I could tell she was reading from her screen. In the background, other girls just like her...fresh voiced, eager...encouraged other clients.

"He lives too far away," I'd said. "And what kind of name is Heart?"

"H-a-r-t. He enjoys classical music and good conversation. I'm looking at his picture, and he's cute."

"But we'd never see each other."

"If you two kids hit it off," America said brightly, "you'll figure something out."

I was, at the time, forty-two years old; I'd signed up for this service several months earlier, but I'd yet to agree to a date. Too busy, I'd kept telling myself, and this wasn't exactly a lie. There was my job atthe university. There was the novel I was supposed to be writing about the nineteenth-century German pianist and composer Clara Schumann and her forty-odd-year relationship with Johannes Brahms. There was my four-year-old daughter, Heidi. There was also the fact that, since my divorce had been finalized, I'd been finding it difficult to make decisions of any kind. Should I put the house on the market? Should I buy green apples or red? Should I find an outside piano teacher for Heidi or keep teaching her myself? The previous week, with the help of my new friend Ellen, I'd finally boxed up the last of Cal's things, odds and ends he'd been promising to collect for months: a framed map of Massachusetts, a shoe box full of pens, an assortment of holiday gifts...candles, boxed jellies, joking plaques...from various junior high students. A swan-necked lamp that had belonged to his mother. Period boots and belts and jackets. Faded T-shirts printed with the dates and -locations of Revolutionary War reenactments. Ellen pulled a tomahawk from a dark leather pouch; she wore a man's powdered wig on her head.

"What do you miss about this guy?" she'd said.

"Everything," I'd said. "And nothing."

Now, as the waitress arrived with my wine, I considered what to do with the boxes. Should I mail them to Calvin? Leave them at the graffiti-spattered Goodwill trailer next to the I-95 overpass? Wait until he picked up Heidi for the weekend, insist he take everything along? Each of these options seemed fraught with consequences, all of them unpleasant and inevitable. The box would be lost. I'd be carjacked at gunpoint. Calvin would be angry. The rational part of my brain, the part I recognized, reminded me that I was being ridiculous. But the other part...its nervous newborn twin...was persistent, hungry for disaster. One wrong step, one bad choice, and the worst would happen, the earth would swallow me whole, and if that happened, when that happened, what would become of Heidi? Each night, I got up to check windows and doors, making certain that everything was locked. I stayed off the phone during storms. I'd stopped taking vitamins, worried about choking, about Heidi finding me dead on the floor.

By the time Hart showed up, I'd finished my wine as well as the contents of the bread basket. My first impression was that he was utterly exhausted: ashen-faced, pale- lipped, a quietly aging man. I was looking tired myself these days, the bags beneath my eyes worse than usual. Already you have something in common, said the thin, ironic voice inside my head, and I wished I had left ten minutes earlier, the way I'd wanted to. I should have been at home, tucking Heidi into bed. I should have been reading student manuscripts. I should have been going through the hundreds of pages I'd already written on Clara and Brahms, all of them perfectly fine pages of writing, and not a single one of them right. Not a single one offering fresh insight into the questions others had already asked.

What was the true nature of their relationship?

Why did the two never marry, even after Robert Schumann's death?

"This will never work," Hart announced, voicing my own thoughts as he sank into a chair. "It is over an hour to get here."

He spoke with a light German accent. Maybe Czech. Too bad I'd never know which. "I told them the distance was a problem," I said, reaching for my purse.

He glanced at me without interest. "You are leaving?"

"My sitter goes home at eight."

"It is seven."

"The traffic."


German, I decided. My parents spoke it as children. Of course they stopped when they started school, and then there was the war. Growing up, I'd begged for German words as if they were pieces of hard candy, delicious but unwholesome somehow, certain to rot my teeth.

"I could eat something quick," I said, wavering. Perhaps he might be someone who could help me with translations. "Maybe some soup."

"You like soup?"

"Why not soup?"

He touched the empty bread basket. "You seem to like bread, too."

The waiter nearly tripped in his eagerness to get to our table, and I took a second look at my date: expensive watch, tailored shirt, full head of curly dark hair. This was a man who would always be led to the table marked Reserved. I made up my mind to dislike him. The waiter stood ready with his pen.

"I must have more than just soup," Hart said. "I am coming straight from work."

"I also came from work." It seemed important to establish that I, too, had been put out.

Good Things I Wish You
A Novel
. Copyright © by A. Ansay. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Stewart O'Nan
“Reminiscent of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Good Things I Wish You employs a rich and daring metafictional spin on one of the great romances in history to investigate passion and love—and what doesn’t change between women and men. Manette Ansay takes great risks to deliver great rewards.”
Diana Abu-Jaber
Good Things I Wish You is a lyrical, haunting exploration of loves past and present. Witty, sprightly, surprising, this deeply original and utterly captivating new novel by A. Manette Ansay beguiles the senses and dazzles the heart. A beautiful book.”

Meet the Author

A. Manette Ansay is the author of eight books, including Vinegar Hill, Midnight Champagne (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Blue Water. She has received the Pushcart Prize, two Great Lakes Book Awards, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. She teaches in the MFA writing program at the University of Miami.

Brief Biography

Port Washington, Wisconsin; now lives in New York City
Date of Birth:
Place of Birth:
Lapeer, Michigan
MFA, Cornell University, 1991

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Good Things I Wish You 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book started out with such promise. Soon fizzled out. Character and plot development went nowhere. Seemed as though the author lost interest in the story....I know I did.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I got this book b/c I was interested in the relationship between Clara Schumann and Bach. However, most of the book ended up being about the author and her own life. It was a decent book, just not exactly what I expected. I would have liked to hear more about the Schumann/Bach relationship, read more of the letters between them, see more photos, etc.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
scantrll More than 1 year ago
I was wanting a lot more from this book. Honestly I only felt like 1/2 of two different stories. I don't know if that's what the Ms. Ansay meant you to feel, but I was horribly disappointed in the end. Also, as a NOOK reader, the formatting is WAY off in some points and from page 176 or so till 200+ is nothing but author's notes and bibliography. I wanted to know more of what happens to the main characters which is the only reason this gets 2 stars instead of 1 from me. They were good enough characters that I wanted more, but the author never gave it to me and it felt very cut off at the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
sunnyMS More than 1 year ago
I haven't read a good love story for a long time. But I was glad that I found this book. I enjoyed every single lines with two different couple at the separate time. This book was very well written and I couldn't put it away.
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
Award winning novelist Manette Ansay (Vinegar Hill, Midnight Champagne, Blue Water) doesn't seeem to shy away from challenges. She set quite a task for herself in crafting a work of fiction focusing on two complex relationships - one historical and the other contemporary. While the author assures readers in an Author's Note that this is purely a work of fiction, the inclusion of letters and diary excerpts penned by Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann, and Johannes Brahms tend to create a feeling of historical accuracy. To my knowledge the question of whether or not Clara and Johannes were close friends or lovers is still the subject of discussion. One can draw his or her own conclusions when reading some of their correspondence included in this story. From Johannes to Clara in 1856: " I wish I could write you as tenderly as I love you and tell you all the good things that I wish for you. You are so infinitely dear to me, dearer than I can say....." From Clara to Johannes in 1858: "I wish I could find longing as sweet as you do. It only gives me pain and fills my heart with unspeakable woe." The other relationship explored takes place over a century later and involves 42-year-old Jeanette Hochmann, a novelist who is working on a book about the bond between Clara and Johannes. Recently divorced she is wounded, alone save for her young daughter, Heidi. Through a dating service she meets Hart, a handsome German businessman . By coincidence his native home is Leipzig, which was also Clara's, and he offers to help Jeanette with her research by translating for her. Of course, more than translation develops. For this reader the lives of the Schumanns and Brahms proved more intriguing than the connection between Jeanette and Hart. Nonetheless, the play of a historical pairing with a modern one does result in entertaining reading reminding us that the stories of love truly are timeless. - Gail Cooke
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ajpohren More than 1 year ago
In Good Things I Wish You, author A. Manette Ansay delivers a rather unique writing style, with her plotting of interweaving historical fact/fiction, with present day. Starting out with Jeanette, a woman and single mother of a young daughter, who is recovering from a divorce, we learn of her struggles to find her way, as she writes her first book. The book that she is crafting, is all-encompassing, in a way that the characters wrap themselves around Jeanette and ache for their story to be released. This story? The tale of Clara Schumann, a world renowned female pianist, her husband well-known composer Robert Schumann and the young protege Johannes Brahms. As a surprise twist of fate, Jeanette meets a rather mysterious man who grew up in Leipzig, East Germany, birthplace of Clara Schumann. There is a strange sort of connection between Jeanette and this man, Hart, who claims that men and women can never be friends and quite frankly, he does not feel any sort of chemistry between himself and Jeanette. However, as Hart aides Jeanette in translations and researching the various places from which Clara's, Robert's and Brahms' stories take place, the connection between the two become even greater. This brings forth, again, the question: Can women and men ever be just friends? More importantly, doesn't the basis of a friendship and companionship make for the most stable of relationship foundations? Perhaps, perhaps not. Though not the typical romance, I found the relationship between Jeanette and Hart an interesting one. A combination of historical fiction and contemporary fiction, Good Things I Wish You is a story that will reach an array of audiences. Two completely different woman, living many decades apart, yet sharing so many similarities and common traits. I found the similarities between Clara's love and desire to compose and Jeanette's love and desire to write, an interesting likeness. Both with children they love (though Clara did consider the children that she birthed, her husband's children, rather than her own), torn between love and duty to them and their deep seeded need to express themselves through their creative talent. In both past and present, this is often the case for women, I think, putting aside their own desires and goals until those around have been reached and taken care of first. I know, woman's lib and all of that aside, I still see this as a common trend. I have to admit that when I first received Good Things I Wish You, I wasn't completely aware of what I was in for. The story sounded incredibly appealing and the twist of past and present blended in one story intrigued me. When the book first reached my hands, I randomly flipped through pages, as I so often do when I receive a lovely new adventure to lose myself within. I have to say that I was beyond thrilled when I saw the photographs enclosed throughout the book. They are amazing and lend a completely new dimension to the story, itself. Amid the photos are excerpts of letters and diary entries sent between Clara, Robert and Brahms, as well as footnotes from the destinations these were obtained. What a wondrous way to follow up the intrigue and curiosities that this story conjures up for these historical figures. Though the story interweaves past and present, the transitionings of these times and chapters are seamless and incredibly smooth. The writing style of A. Manette Ansay is largely enjoyable and her characterizations
harstan More than 1 year ago
Recently divorced, forty-two years old Floridian Jeanette Hochmann is struggling with balance. She works at the university, is raising her four years old child virtually alone, and is writing her novelization of the four decade relationship between nineteenth century German pianist Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms, her spouse Robert's protégé as composers. Jeannette, a child prodigy classical pianist, hopes to bring freshness to the legendary triangle, but instead feels lethargic and despondent following her acrimonious divorce war. Through an agency Jeanette meets slightly older entrepreneur Hart, the first man she dates in nineteent years. He coincidently comes from Clara's hometown Leipzig, Germany. Hart kindly helps her with translations of her research from German to English though they seem to have nothing in common except they are attracted to one another. In fact she realizes his ten year old daughter, a musical prodigy, is much more like her than Hart is. As they travel Germany and Switzerland together, their relationship heats up yet increasingly seems to emulate that of Clara and Johannes. This is a fascinating look at the legendary triangle between the Schumann duo and Brahms in which the nineteenth century subplot with original photos and letters is extremely gripping; but in turn makes the modern day entry seem intrusive. The cast in both centuries are fully developed, however once again the historical persona steal the show. Although GOOD THINGS I WISH FOR YOU might have been better as an exclusive look at the historical relationship, fans will enjoy A. Manette Ansay's fine tale of how convoluted life is then and now. Harriet Klausner