About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

#77 - The House on Fortune Street

Hooray. This is not a novel set in the 1950s; it's set in contemporary London. It's also a darned good read, and manages to make the whole idea of telling one story from multiple perspectives seem fresh.

The House on Fortune Street, by Margot Livesey (Harper, 2008) is the story of a tragic watershed moment in the lives of three young adults sharing a house on, well, Fortune Street. It's also novel about the role of luck in our lives. The bare facts are laid out fairly early on. Abigail, the driven theatre manager who seems to be in perpetual motion, owns the house; her boyfriend Sean, an impoverished ABD Oxford grad student, has recently moved in; and the fragile Dara, a counselor and Abigail's college best friend, rents the downstairs flat. We know from the dust jacket that tragedy will strike one of the three, and sure enough, it does. The book opens with Sean's story. Already struggling to balance writing his long-overdue dissertation and his other gig, helping select promising new plays for Abigail's upstart theatre, he takes on yet a third job, co-writing a mass-market book on assisted suicide with his friend Valentine, to help pay the rent Abigail suddenly insists on charging. Since Abigail is already perpetually busy with her theatre work, an anonymous letter accusing her of being unfaithful strikes a nerve with Sean. He becomes suspicious, and starts questioning the decision to abandon his less passionate but more companionable marriage to Judy, his ex-wife, for this tempestuous but shaky affair with Abigail.

The second survivor of fortune we get to know intimately is Dara's father, Cameron, who left the family under mysterious circumstances when Dara was a child, and who's only recently re-entered her life. He recalls his childhood, and the devastating death of his younger brother Lionel, never mentioned since, at 14. Fast-forward to his courtship and marriage to Fiona, Dara's mother; the birth of Dara and her younger brother; his largely innocent fascination with Dara's young friend Ingrid; and the sudden collapse of their family when a weekend camping trip with Ingrid's family goes awry.

From here, we meet Dara, and learn of her intense but sporadic relationship with violinist Robert; her shock and seeming resilience on learning that he still lives with an ex-girlfriend and their daughter; her immersion in colleagues' Halley and Joyce's are-they-or-aren't-they relationship; and her increasing resentment at Abigail's treating her like a poor relation. Lastly, of course, we focus on the ambitious Abigail -- her vagabond childhood at the hands of self-absorbed, follow-your-bliss parents; her de facto adoption by Dara's family during their college years; and her determination to control her own life and make her own luck, unencumbered by love or other unplanned interruptions.

As I said, this was a pretty good book. The characters are well fleshed-out and believable, and Livesey's way of revealing new details and interpretations with each person's story keeps you interested even though you know, at the end of the first, what happens at the end. The conclusion is fitting without being too neat and tidy. If you like this kind of story, this one's a solid good read.

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