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Season of Lillian Dawes: A Novel

Season of Lillian Dawes: A Novel

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by Katherine Mosby

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From the acclaimed writer whose first novel, Private Altars,, comes a story of driving lyrical force set in Manhattan in the 1950s.

When he is expelled from boarding school, Gabriel Gibbs is sent to live with his older brother Spencer in New York. Rather than a punishment, this becomes an exhilarating invitation to a dazzling world, from smoking cigars at the


From the acclaimed writer whose first novel, Private Altars,, comes a story of driving lyrical force set in Manhattan in the 1950s.

When he is expelled from boarding school, Gabriel Gibbs is sent to live with his older brother Spencer in New York. Rather than a punishment, this becomes an exhilarating invitation to a dazzling world, from smoking cigars at the Plaza Hotel to weekend house parties filled with tennis and cocktails. It is in this heady atmosphere — from white-gloved Park Avenue to literary Greenwich Village — that Gabriel first glimpses the elusive Lillian Dawes. Free-spirited and mysterious, Lillian captures the imaginations of those in "all the best circles," including both brothers. As their lives entwine, so begins the powerful and poignant unraveling of innocence.

"There is, in most lives, a defining moment, a point dividing time into before and after...." Mosby beautifully traces the trajectory of consequence that will change all three lives. The Season of Lillian Dawes is a wondrous novel that chronicles a young man's first tour of the adult world.

Editorial Reviews

Annabel Davis-Goff
"A fairy tale of enormous charm."
Annabel Davis–Goff
“A fairy tale of enormous charm.”
Time Magazine
“Rich and accomplished.”
Boston Globe
“Mosby has a true storyteller’s voice.”
“Mosby writes with fluid grace…her images are magical.”
The New Yorker
“Tremendously ambitious…and impressive.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Mosby shows an extraordinary gift. A.”
Orlando Sentinel
“A pleasure to read.”
USA Today
“Mosby has an impeccable way with narration and dialogue”.
“Mosby’s rich, elegant writing makes this novel memorable.”
Seattle Times
“…a wistful fairy-tale.”
New York Newsday
“Mosby writes like no one working today.”
Baltimore Sun
“…effortless and seductive…”
The Charlotte Observer
“Enchanting, heartfelt, haunting.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Intensely romantic…sings with a music seldom found in contemporary writing.”
Publishers Weekly
Mosby's sensuous, lyrical prose, highly praised in her debut novel, Private Altars, is the saving grace of her second book, which turns out to be a contrived and inflated story that's long on atmosphere but short on credibility. The Gibbs brothers, Spencer and Gabriel, are scions of a humorless, oppressive blueblood family that takes snobbism to new extremes. Now orphans, the siblings have rebelled against their straightlaced relatives, and when 17-year-old Gabriel is expelled from boarding school, he moves in with his older brother in a seedy apartment in lower Manhattan. It's the 1950s, and a halcyon time for those in high society. Indeed, the rich are "shamelessly selfindulgent," while such humble figures as a men's room attendant and an elderly shoeshine "boy" show true nobility. While Spencer labors on a book of short stories, the preternaturally observant Gabriel wanders about New York, where one day he gets a glimpse of the tantalizingly mysterious Lillian Dawes, a beautiful woman in her 20s. Lillian is radiant and kind, and although Gabriel discovers that she uses several names and refuses to speak about her past, his adolescent crush grows acute after he and Spencer attend a Gatsbyesque house party where Gabriel becomes the unlikely confidant of several of the guests, including Lillian. When Spencer and Lillian fall in love, the course of Gabriel's loss of innocence begins. Mosby works too hard at making Lillian enchanting and multitalented and Gabriel presciently ubiquitous, and at portraying the rich as caricatures (one eccentric character takes her own heavy silverware to good restaurants, lest the house flatware not have the right weight). The melodramatic denouement, clumsily foreshadowed from the beginning, moves the book into the realm of overheated romantic fiction. That's too bad, because Mosby's elegant, poetic prose is as smooth and shimmering as velvet. One hopes she can create a more credible plot next time. 5-city author tour. (Apr. 7) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
saturated tale about a young man living in 1950s New York after being kicked out of boarding school who falls for the fabulous Lillian Dawes. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Katherine Mosby writes like no one writing today. Her second novel is lushly descriptive and deeply nostagic, old fashioned but by no means quaint. Once again she had created a romantic, absorbing, highly literary story…Mosby's images are often exquisite.
New York Times
Exquisite…there is so much to enjoy in The Season of Lillian Dawes ... a meticulous attention to language that betrays her origins as a poet. So too does her gift for the quick, vivid image. Mosby writes good social comedy, but The Season of Lillian Dawes is much more than that....
Charlotte Observer
Mosby writes with graceful fluidity and poetic elegance. She details her characters so perfectly they leap off the page . It's is a lovely novel, The Season of Lillian Dawes, -- enchanting, hearfelt, haunting.
San Diego Tribune
… [Mosby}'s back with "The Season of Lillian Dawes," a sparkling novel in the vein of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton and Henry James.
Seattle Times
Mosby's sparkling dialogue and observations have a screwball-comedy zing…
Richmond Times Dispatch
Mosby has a knack for imbuing her essentially serious-indeed, intensely romantic-narrative with deliciously funny bits without knocking it off-balance.The Season of Lillian Dawes is a delight, a refreshing romantic tale… and one that sings with a music seldom found in contemporary writing.
Kirkus Reviews
An adolescent is obsessed with a mysterious, glamorous young woman in 1950s Manhattan. Having been kicked out of prep school for smoking a cigar in the chapel, recently orphaned Gabriel Gibbs ends up living with his older brother Spencer in an apartment in Greenwich Village, where Spencer, ten years Gabriel's senior, is completing a book of short stories. Gabriel idolizes Spencer and so does the author. He is a character without faults: generous, wise, handsome, and brilliant. While Spencer spends his days writing, Gabriel wanders the city. Along the way he hears about, then briefly sees, the beautiful Lillian Dawes. Her picture appears on the society pages with increasing frequency, Gabriel catches her dancing in the kitchen of a Cuban restaurant, and his aunt Lavinia mentions having befriended her on the SS Rotterdam, where Lillian showed extraordinary shooting skills. Lillian has no money but floats within the upper-class WASP world with ease. After Spencer's nouveau riche friend/nemesis Clayton Prather tells Gabriel he has "plans" for Dawes, Gabriel wrangles an invitation to a weekend at Prather's country place. There, Spencer and Lillian meet while Lillian displays her many talents and superior soul, equal only to Spencer's own. Finally the plot, which for more than two thirds of the story has meandered along with Gabriel, rushes through Spencer and Lillian's romance and its (obvious) connection to Spencer's search for the lost heir to a fortune his father embezzled years earlier. While second-novelist Mosby (Private Altars, 1995) writes with a formal grace that only sometimes verges on the pretentious (references to The Great Gatsby don't help), her characters seem to have beenborrowed from the movies-eccentric aunt, Asian houseboy, communist moocher friend (not to mention Lillian herself)-and in spite of all the period detail carefully layered in, the tale has an artificial, unlived quality. Pretty sentences deliver a flimsy storyline and unbelievable characters. Author tour
Boston Globe on PRIVATE ALTARS
“Mosby has a true storyteller’s voice.”
“Mosby writes with fluid grace…her images are magical.”
Time Magazine on PRIVATE ALTARS
“Rich and accomplished.”
The New Yorker on PRIVATE ALTARS
“Tremendously ambitious…and impressive.”
Annabel Davis–Goff
“A fairy tale of enormous charm.”
Sena Jeter Naslund
“A charming novel with needle–sharp wit and the lingering aroma of youthful infatuation.”
Madison Smartt Bell
“…An unusual, extraordinary work that there is really nothing to compare it to in contemporary fiction.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.65(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

There is in most lives, a defining moment, a point dividing time into before and after -- an accident or love affair, a journey or perhaps a death. For Spencer, all four, like the points on a compass, combined in the shape of Lillian Dawes. And because it is not possible to witness a tragedy without carrying away some of its stain, she became my watershed as well.

I was seventeen when the Renwick School for boys decided, despite my family's long affiliation with the school, to discharge me midterm. My father had died the year before, and out of deference to his name, and perhaps also his bequest, they had kept me on through a number of earlier infractions. However, when I was caught smoking a cigar in the chapel after curfew, it was plain I had exhausted the sympathy due my orphaned state. The masters were so eager to return me to what remained of my family that rather than wait for my aunt Grace to retrieve me at the end of the weekend, they sent me to New York, to my brother Spencer, which amounted to divine intervention in my opinion.

Spencer was ten years older than I, at boarding school by the time I was able to say his name. Our relationship therefore had been forged on holidays, in equal measures of jealous admiration on my part and amused affection on his. Spencer had assumed, at the time of our mother's illness, the role of family diplomat, a position for which he was singularly suited: his wit and lean good looks made him a favorite among even the most petulant of relatives, and his indifference to his status only furthered it. That is,until he declined to pursue his role professionally: after a brief stint with the State Department, he renounced his interest in foreign affairs. Then, much to everyone's surprise, Scribner published a slim collection of essays Spencer had written his final year at Yale, entitled Apropos of Nothing. Our father particularly, and the family generally, understood these two events as a repudiation of the tradition that had put Gibbses in the Senate, the Supreme Court, and two European embassies in the last century. It was also noted, a bit hysterically, that Spencer omitted from his wardrobe the hat and sock garters that were the mark of a gentleman.

Spencer's decision to go to law school had mollified my father initially; it was still possible for Spencer to “come around.” But after graduating with honors, Spencer went to Italy, where he spent the next several years translating the obscure Renaissance poet Lapadini into English for an academic publisher.

It was at that point that Spencer's past underwent review, and then revision: childhood activities, earlier thought to indicate promise, were now taken as signs of oddity. For example, the Christmas pageants he had written for Hadley (our only cousin, five years my senior and five years Spencer's junior) and me to perform, featuring spectacular death scenes involving pomegranate explosions, were now seen to be morbid, though at the time he had been praised for the ingenuity of his plots and the historical accuracy. It should also be said that at the time, the relatives were so grateful to Spencer for having found a way of keeping Hadley and me occupied that they would have applauded a reenactment of atrocities far more tasteless than those Spencer actually chose.

Spencer's fall from grace, such as it was, did not, as I had initially feared, put greater pressure on me to succeed. It had, in fact, the opposite effect. I think it was felt that if Spencer, with all his gifts, could become a disappointment, then it was better not to hold out any major expectations for an ordinary fellow like myself. Indeed, it seemed to excuse my own lackluster efforts in the classroom and on the playing field because a precedent had been set'if I was not achieving my potential, it was because Spencer had squandered his. I might have felt guilty about letting my own failures fall on Spencer's shoulders, but I didn't. At the time, I felt relief.

Spencer met me at the station and took me to the Oak Room for dinner. Not only did he let me order a drink, but after the meal had been cleared, he offered me a cigar.

“I hear you've developed a taste for these.”

“Actually, it was Bixby's idea,” I explained, taking the cigar. “He was outside taking a leak when Mr. Thrush came in, which is why I was caught and he got off.”

“Gabriel,” Spencer said quietly, holding out a match for me to light the cigar,

“I don't give a damn if you smoke cigars and I don't think your expulsion is a world-class tragedy. And I am happy to take you in for the remainder of the term, only don't try to bullshit me.”

He blew the match out just before it singed his fingers and dropped it disdainfully in the ashtray.

The Season of Lillian Dawes. Copyright © by Katherine Mosby. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Sena Jeter Naslund
“A charming novel with needlesharp wit and the lingering aroma of youthful infatuation.”
Madison Smartt Bell
“…An unusual, extraordinary work that there is really nothing to compare it to in contemporary fiction.”

Meet the Author

Katherine Mosby's previous works include a collection of poetry, The Book of Uncommon Prayer, and two novels, Private Altars and The Season of Lillian Dawes, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. She lives in New York City and teaches at New York University's Stern Business School.

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Season of Lillian Dawes 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Jeff Woodson, one of America's premier voice artists, gives resonant reading to this tale of fascination and obsession. Those who heard Woodson's rendering of 'Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil' well know the qualities he brings to a voice presentation. When young Gabriel Gibbs, son of an affluent attorney, is kicked out of prep school he is remanded to the care of his older brother, Spencer. That really isn't too hard to take as Spencer lives in a Greenwich Village apartment and determines that what Gabriel needs is an education in the way the world works. Of course, it is a very privileged world. It is not too long before Gabriel spies the mysterious Lillian Dawes. She is unlike any of the other women he has come across in the City, and he is smitten. So is Spencer. When Lillian and Spencer become a couple it seems to be the perfect pairing. But, we all know how the course of true love runs and each harbors secrets from the other. As an observer, although an emotionally involved one, Gabriel learns more than he might have in prep school - he learns about masks and what lies beneath them, he discovers the importance of being true to oneself. It is a compelling story from which all of us may make discoveries.