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.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

#38 - The Master Bedroom

Tessa Hadley's The Master Bedroom (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2007) was aptly named; it did an excellent job of putting me to sleep.

Summary: "A single woman at loose ends becomes the object of two men's affections -- a father and his teenage son -- in this sly, richly drawn novel. After more than twenty years in London, Kate Flynn has returned to her family home in Wales to care for her aging mother. Having cast off her academic career, she is unmoored, and when she runs into a childhood friend, David Roberts, at a concert, she finds herself falling for him. For his part, David's marriage isn't as solid as it looks -- his wife, Suzie, has begun acting strangely, moving out of their bedroom, neglecting their children, and disappearing for days at a time -- and he begins to seek refuge with Kate from the newfound chaos of his life. David's seventeen-year-old son, Jamie, is also drawn to Kate's eccentricity and her strange, glamorous old house full of books and music and history. As both father and son set about their parallel courtships, Tessa Hadley's intricate, graceful novel explores the tangled web of connections between parents and children, revealing how each generation replays the stories of the one that came before, in new and sometimes startling patterns."

Opening lines: "It was not a sign. Kate refused to let it be a sign."

My take: I read this New York Times review, I read the jacket flap (basically what's written above) ... then I read the book itself, and came away wondering if the reviewers read the same thing I had. What can I say except that the book was boring? OK, I'll grant Times reviewer Liesl Schillinger one thing: Hadley's novel does raise some interesting ideas:
"What if it had been Mrs. Robinson who was the pursued, and Benjamin the pursuer? What if, when the young man came knocking, the grown woman hid, locked her bedroom door, and 'stayed motionless on her bed, not answering, hugging her knees tightly?' What if, when he refused to believe she couldn't love him, she didn't run to him, but from him?"
Set aside, for a moment, the implication that the answers to these "What ifs" are "erotic" and "tantalizing" rather than stalkerish and scary. Forget that The Graduate, while a brilliant movie that expertly captured the zeitgeist of its time, was first a real ho-hummer of a book. Those things aside, Master Bedroom may suggest some interesting questions, but it doesn't come close to answering them in a satisfactory manner. The above review notwithstanding, I'm inclined to agree with Joanna Briscoe's Guardian review:
"'[T]he author refuses to let dramatic action, an escalation of tension, or any other conventional narrative lubricant dictate the rhythms of everyday life. ... [T]he 'clever and sceptical and difficult' Kate cares for her mother, Billie, immerses herself in classical music and nurtures at best ambivalent feelings towards David Roberts, a dependable, married doctor involved in public health, then continues to oscillate between indifference and essentially invented interest.

"Kate, 43, then meets Jamie, David's 17-year-old son, and finds herself shunted into a Mrs. Robinson role as the teenager turns up at her house panting for sex and adult enlightenment. Kate's affair with Jamie is, like her emotional relationship with his father, essentially devoid of intensity. As David observes, 'even passion seemed to have reduced itself to drudgery,' while Kate has 'a chilly vision of herself on the slope down from summits that had hardly happened. Suzie falls under hippie-dippie influences; Kate visits London; everyone has holidays, reads books, and discusses the larger issues of life. Moral inquiry is lightly won."
Yawn. Books that hint at being juicy entertainment but then don't follow through annoy me. On to some non-fiction for a change.

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