(Audio)Book Talk: FIN AND LADY, by Cathleen Schine

Fin and Lady
Cathleen Schine
Audiobook read by Anne Twomey
FSG/Sarah Crichton Books (2013), Hardcover (ISBN 1427231540 / 9780374154905)
Fiction, 288 pages
Source: Purchased audiobook (Macmillan Audio, 2013, ISBN 9781427231550; Audible ASIN B00CTNXS0A)

When I first encountered reviews of Cathleen Schine’s Fin and Lady last year, the fact that there was a character in it actually named “Lady” reminded me an exchange from one of my all-time favorite movies, Almost Famous:

(William and Penny are walking in Central Park the morning after he has rescued her from an overdose) 
PENNY: So I guess what I’m trying to say is…I’ve done twice the things I said I’ve done.
WILLIAM: What about your mom?
PENNY: She always said, “Marry up. Marry someone grand.” And that’s why she named me Lady. Lady Goodman.”

“Lady Goodman” made herself into the free-spirited charmer Penny Lane, and I often found myself transferring her image on to the free-spirited charmer Lady Hadley. Schine’s “Lady” had her name inflicted on her by her father, rather than her mother–the same father who thought “Fin” was a good name for his last child after seeing it at the ending of a French film–because it seemed fitting for a girl. The half-siblings do not meet in person until Fin is five years old, when he accompanies his parents to Europe searching for Lady after she fails to come to her own wedding, and they won’t see each other again until six years later, when they become all the family either has left. Not yet twenty-five, Lady becomes eleven-year-old Fin’s legal guardian…and in other ways, he becomes her guardian as they navigate the 1960s in a Greenwich Village brownstone.

I have some of my own (very vague) memories of 1960s New York City–I arrived there in the spring of 1964, just like Fin, although he’s more than a decade older than I am; the novel’s setting is an absolute sweet spot for me, and was definitely part of its appeal. The Hadleys’ New York wasn’t mine, however; privileged by money, place, and youthful beauty, Lady and Fin have the sort of life that I rarely encounter outside of fiction. Still, their story and their relationship rarely felt less than real to me–I couldn’t resist them, although I admit I didn’t try very hard.

I have Schine’s earlier novels The New Yorkers and The Three Weissmans of Westport on the shelves of TBR Purgatory, but I decided to read this most recent work of hers by ear. Anne Twomey’s reading suited the book very well. I occasionally found the voice she used for pre-adolescent Fin a bit too high-pitched and grating, but her delivery often reminded me of a younger Betty White, and I appreciated what she brought to the story. This wasn’t my official “first book of 2014”–as I write this, I still haven’t finished reading that one–but it is the first book I finished in 2014, and it was a thoroughly pleasant experience.

Rating: Book and audio, 3.75 / 5

Other reviews, via the Book Blogs Search Engine

Book description, from the publisher’s website

It’s 1964. Eleven-year-old Fin and his glamorous, worldly, older half sister, Lady, have just been orphaned, and Lady, whom Fin hasn’t seen in six years, is now his legal guardian and his only hope. That means Fin is uprooted from a small dairy farm in rural Connecticut to Greenwich Village, smack in the middle of the swinging ’60s. He soon learns that Lady—giddy, careless, urgent, and obsessed with being free—is as much his responsibility as he is hers. 

So begins Fin & Lady, the lively, spirited new novel by Cathleen Schine, the author of the bestselling The Three Weissmanns of Westport. Fin and Lady lead their lives against the background of the ’60s, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam War—Lady pursued by ardent, dogged suitors, Fin determined to protect his impulsive sister from them and from herself. 

Fin & Lady is a comic, romantic love story: the story of a brother and sister who must form their own unconventional family in increasingly unconventional times.

Opening Lines:

“Fin’s funeral suit was a year old, worn three times, already too small.

“He knew his mother was sick. He knew she went to the hospital to get treatments. He saw the dark blue lines and dots on her chest.

“’My tattoos,’ she said.

“She sang ‘Popeye the Sailor Man’ and raised her skinny arms as if to flex her Popeye muscles, to make him laugh.

“He knew she was sick. He knew people died. But he never thought she would die. Not his mother. Not really.

“Lady came to the funeral, an unmistakably foreign presence in the bare, white Congregational church: she wore large sunglasses and wept audibly.

“Fin’s neighbors, the Pounds, who raised big, thick Morgan horses, had been looking after Fin since his mother was taken to the hospital.

“’I’m sure your mother knew what she was doing,’ Mr. Pound said doubtfully when he saw Lady Hadley approach, her arms open wide, a lighted cigarette dangling from her lips.

“’I don’t think she had much choice, dear,’ Mrs. Pound whispered to him. ‘There was no one else, was there?’”

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