Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Book Review: 'On Turpentine Lane' by Elinor Lipman

Elinor Lipman's "On Turpentine Lane" is narrated by Faith Frankel, a bright, good-natured, and somewhat gullible woman in her thirties who works in the fundraising office of her alma mater, Everton Country Day, a private school in Massachusetts. She impulsively decides to purchase "a chronic headache masquerading as a charming bungalow," while her freeloading and self-absorbed fiancé, Stuart Levine, travels across the United States trying "to find his own path." When she gets into trouble, her pushy but protective relatives come to the rescue.

This is a wacky and mildly amusing novel about relationships between partners, parents and children, married couples, and siblings. What makes two people right for one another? What drives formerly affectionate pairs apart? Can husbands and wives who have been married for decades maintain their intimacy and passion? Faith is fortunate to have a wonderful brother, Joel, and the siblings are supportive of their mother when her husband, Henry, behaves badly. Lipman describes the challenges that each character faces with breezy humor; she casts a satirical eye on workplace politics, late-in-life crises, and the pretentions of the super-rich.

Unfortunately, the author goes too far when she throws in an unnecessary subplot about the dark secrets of those who previously owned Faith's home. This superfluous element is a jarring intrusion that does not mesh well with book's tongue-in-cheek tone. At its best, "On Turpentine Lane" is a lighthearted, literate, and pleasant work of romantic fiction. Faith comes to realize that although happiness may be elusive, it is not unattainable.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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