Thursday, August 21, 2008

Book Review: Leeway Cottage

William Morrow, 2005. ISBN-10: 0060539054 ISBN-13: 978-0060539054
I was browsing at my local library, looking for some light summer reading, when I chanced on this novel. The author was familiar to me; I enjoyed her Domestic Pleasures several years ago.

For the past few years, I have struggled to read novels. Real life has been so much more, well, real than anything authors can think up to fascinate me. I read many short stories, and a lot of nonfiction. But I was in the mood for a good solid escape novel, and I found it in Leeway Cottage.

The story is a sweeping saga of one family's relationships, placed against the backgrop of world events and their summer home on the coast of Maine. The book starts with the death of the matriarch of the family, and then moved back through time to trace the journey of the daughter, Annabee (who later decided to be called Sidney) and her relationship with her mother, Leeway Cottage, World War II and the other world events that shaped her times.

The book grabbed me within the first few pages. As I read on, I became curious and more than a little puzzled by the conflicted interactions of daughter and mother. This, I admit, is out of my area of experience. While all daughter may have issues with their mothers from time to time, my mother and I had a strong and loving relationship. I found it difficult to identify with either of them, and either liked or disliked one or the other from page to page.

Most fascinating to me was the part of the book that followed Annabee's husband. Laurus' family and their struggles and resistance efforts in the Netherlands during World War II. I would have almost preferred to read a whole book that focused on the sister and brother of Laurus and his parents. There the true grandeur and depth of Gutcheon's writing and research was strongly apparent and I stayed up late, reading each page quickly and anxiously as the story unfolded.

Sometimes books read like they were written to be a screenplay. Sometimes Leeway Cottage read that way to me, especially in scenes describing boat races and mother-daughter arguments (I can just picture Meryl Streep as the self-indulgent mother, and perhaps Helena Bonham Carter as the headstrong daughter), but Gutcheon's skilled use of language stands on its own, no graphics required.

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