Sunday, May 30, 2004

Lucy Crown

I finished LUCY CROWN a couple of days ago. What a terrific book. It makes me lonesome for books that I read when I was a child. I like huge chunks of dialogue, in which one person is "speechifying" and gets it all said at a crucial part in the novel when the reader's head is buzzing madly with predictions and questions. I like it that Irwin Shaw seemed to understand that. A writer should be a reader, first.

I'd only had a nodding acquaintance with Shaw's novels. I remember being in early high school when RICH MAN, POOR MAN (the miniseries) came out, so I decided to give the book a try. I remember liking it; I don't remember why I abandoned it after the first section.

Fast-forward almost 30 years, and I'm browsing at the library and I see a title: LUCY CROWN. I have a weakness for novels named after the main character, especially if the main character is female, so I read the first page, then I read a page in the first part of the book in which Lucy is arguing futilely with her husband. It all looked scrumptious, so I stuck the book back on the shelf. I knew that soon I would develop a jones to read this book. I didn't have long to wait: About a week and a half later, I stumbled into the library, over to fiction, over to the S's and claimed my book.

In an earlier blog entry, I'd written that the book seemed arch and too John-Cheeverish to suit me, but I plugged along and was rewarded. When Shaw hit Chapter 5, he went into high gear and never looked back.

A point that Shaw handles brilliantly is that he has men all over the book describing Lucy and how beautiful she is, and how they'd no longer be the mortals they are if they could just get her into bed for one night. Ordinarily, this is enough to put me off, but he balances it all so expertly by showing what a dumb ass Lucy is about her life and relationships. Adding another layer, he shows that she *does* have a brain, but she's using it in ways that make the reader want to scream WTF?! especially where her twelve-year-old son, Tony is concerned. On the other hand, the reader understands completely where she's coming from. Shaw has seen to that, but he's got a nice light and deft touch with Lucy's psychological underpinnings. He gives a few brief details, then gives the reader credit for being able to connect the dots.

For a book about infidelity, this book is refreshingly free of sex; it all takes place 'offstage', so there's not the obligatory sex scene. When the reader sees Lucy at her most primitive, it's got nothing at all to do with sex, only self-preservation.

In addition, World War II plays a role in the middle of the novel, and when LUCY CROWN was written, in the early to mid 1950s, it was a recent event. This gives these passages a great deal of solidity; the reader doesn't have that niggling feeling that the writer sweated over his research and dropped in as many details as possible to give the writing verisimilitude.

I really don't want to discuss the ending, but suffice it to say that Irwin Shaw takes a God-like stance towards his remaining characters and gives them mercy.

Right after I finished LUCY CROWN, of course I had to find other readers, to see what they thought. So I hopped on the internet and found an article that mentioned that Irwin Shaw was a frequent guest at Richard and Andrea Simon's home. They were the parents of pop singer Carly Simon. During this time, which would have been Carly's preadolescence, Andrea Simon took revenge on Richard Simon (whose apparent weakness was other women) by having an affair with a very young man in their employ, and this liaison was allegedly conducted right under Carly's young nose.

Irwin Shaw said, gee, I have an idea for a novel.

Reading about the fictional Tony is bad enough because I have a male only child, but reading the novel with Carly Simon fixed as a character gives it creepy undertones. Also, Shaw seemed to want to make sure that the Simon family knew fully about his inspiration; Carly Simon's sister is named Lucy.

I kind of wish I didn't know this additional information. Little bit of an ick factor at work here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.