In the same conversational style as The Three Weissmanns of Westport, Catherine Schine creates a story about an orphaned boy and his irrepressible fun-loving guardian in New York City – a modern “Mame” – in her short novel, Fin and Lady.
After his mother dies, eleven year-old Fin leaves the comfort of a farm in Connecticut to live with his wealthy half-sister, Lady, in Greenwich Village. Twenty-three year old Lady, the family black sheep, provides Fin with a reading list, enrolls him in an unconventional bohemian school – the progressive New Flower, and enlists his help in deciding which of three suitors she should marry before she is twenty-five.
Although the plot sounds frivolous, Schine manages to channel the changing times from the sixties through the Vietnam War era, and reveal the insecurities of the main characters as they support each other in navigating their lives. Supporting characters add humor to the unlikely escapades, some fitting nicely into the stereotypes that Schine uses to skillfully create expectations that never materialize: the Hungarian refugee and art dealer Biffi; the ascot-wearing lawyer Tyler; the Yale-educated Jack; Biffi’s Hungarian mother who hides her jewels in a paper bag of stale cookies; Mabel, Lady’s maid with an attitude.
In addition to the highlights of New York City as Lady tours Fin through the museums, art galleries, shops, and restaurants, Schine offers flowing descriptions of Capri, when Lady escapes to find true love:
“The town was full of steps and alleys. Enormous lemons hung from vines. The beach was tiny, the harbor full of brightly painted boats. There were dolphins one day. The sun was high and hot… Everything seemed enchanted.”
The narrator of this love story is unclear until she is revealed later in the story, and, at times, I found myself backtracking – thinking the author had missed a typo in the narrative – when the mysterious voice intermittently inserts an opinion. Otherwise, this short read is humorous and disconcerting – a happy ending but a sad life.
Related Post: The Three Weissmanns of Westport