Saturday, May 12, 2012

Gossip by Beth Gutcheon

Shh, do you hear that?  It's the sound of a healthy spine, sleeping dogs, and a house to myself, the perfect conditions in which to attempt my return to blogging!  I've returned from my weekend outing and promptly taken up a week+ of live-in dog-sitting of three very energetic but mostly self-maintaining yorkies.  Except for the escaping and the killing of small animals and the waking me up at 6 in the morning, everything is going swimmingly so far, but I've still got a week to go.  The good news is that but for the dogs, my life is currently free of distractions, like, say, other humans or various and sundry social interaction, and with some ingenuity, I managed to get the internet working.

With that, I think it's about time to get started chipping away at the book review backlog that has accumulated since the chiropractor maimed me.  Up first is my first ever read by Beth Gutcheon.  Honestly, she's yet another of these authors that I tell myself that I should like, collect a bunch of titles by, and then fail to read them, so I've again used a review copy to get me over the hump.

Loviah "Lovie" French doesn't have upper crust roots, but she finds herself wrapped up in their lives nonetheless when she attends Miss Pratt's boarding school.  There she meets her best friends, Dinah and Avis.  Dinah came to Miss Pratt's on scholarship, like Lovie, but found her social savviness gave her what she needed to hobnob easily with the wealthy and the powerful which eventually translated to a career penning clever gossip columns about New York City's elite.  Avis, whose social pedigree was far higher than Lovie and Dinah's, was quiet and awkward at Miss Pratt's, but her study of art helped her to rise to prominence in the New York art world.  While Avis and Dinah are starting their own dysfunctional families, Lovie takes a much older lover and opens a dress shop.

Unfortunately for Lovie, despite the fact that Dinah and Avis are the best of friends to her, they can hardly stand the sight of each other as a result of the most minor of social faux-pas years ago.  When Dinah's son, Nick, falls in love with Avis's daughter, Grace, it seems like the perfect match to Lovie, since she is like a well-loved aunt to each. However, the relationship forces Avis and Dinah into each other's orbit with unexpectedly disastrous consequences.

Gossip is a detailed story of the slow disintegration of two well-off families told from the unique perspective of an unmarried friend.  Telling the story from Lovie's perspective is a clever device, giving readers the view of an outsider who has never been married or had children but also an insider as the friend to all parties who is bearing witness to family tragedy.  Interesting, too, is the look at the things Lovie has both lost and gained by choosing never to marry, and to pin her hopes on her married lover. 

I had mixed feelings about Gossip.  I loved Gutcheon's style, how she takes readers into a lifestyle they know little about and makes it feel genuine.  I loved how she was able to work several angles, depicting the dysfunction of married life for the two friends as well as Lovie's more unique heartache.  Also, it was interesting to read a story that comes from the perspective of women who are aging past their prime.  It's not a demographic that has much storytelling time dedicated to it. On the other hand, many of the characters in this novel become more and more off-putting the better you came to know them.  It often seemed that Gutcheon was headed in too many directions and leaving me feeling unfocused.  It seemed as if I were missing things because I was paying more attention to Lovie's storyline when I should have been picking up something about Dinah's, for example.  The tragedy is heavily foreshadowed but when it finally came to pass, I found that I didn't care enough for the characters to be emotionally involved in it.

While Gossip might not end up being my favorite of Gutcheon's books, it definitely had plenty enough ingredients to tempt me to tap into more of her work.  Her writing is artful and has a great flow, her characters, for better or worse, certainly come to life, and her ability to convey several different uniques experiences at once is uncanny.  I'm looking forward to more!

(Thanks to William Morrow for a providing me a review copy in exchange for my honest review!)

Has anybody else read this one or any other books by Beth Gutcheon?  What were your impressions and can you recommend me a great book by her?


  1. I listened to this book and liked it more than you did. The tragedy shocked me - I guess I missed the foreshadowing. I haven't read any of Gutcheon's other work.

  2. This sounds like an interesting read. Maybe not something in my wheelhouse, but fun to read about.

    Happy weekend!

  3. Except for the killing small animals part, it sounds like you're having a swell time. It's always nice to enjoy some peace and quiet! Glad you're back to blogging. I miss you when you're gone :(

  4. Glad to hear you are feeling better!

    I haven't read anything by Gutcheon but this one does sound interesting even though there were elements you didn't like. Thanks for your thorough review!

  5. I haven't read any books by this author, but occasionally I want a book that's more about women. Women's fiction, I guess.

    I reviewed Wife 22 Monday, and it was such a really fun book, but it also had a serious side. I really like that sort of thing. Thanks for introducing me to this author!