Bookworm: Friendships, affairs and intimate encounters
“The Castle in the Mist”
By Amy Ephron
c. 2017, Philomel Books
$16.99, $22.99 Canada; 173 pages
Click. That’s the sound you hear as your family leaves your home for the morning. It’s a sound that says the door is closed, your belongings are locked safe inside, and nobody can get in but the person with the key. Or, as in the new book “The Castle in the Mist” by Amy Ephron, that click can also keep everyone out.
Tess was not about to tell her Aunt Evie the whole truth.
She knew she’d be in trouble if she explained that she’d taken a walk up the hill past the orchard, and had talked with a strange boy. His name was William, and he lived in a big house – a castle, really – just beyond Aunt Evie’s property. Though Aunt Evie mightn’t like that Tess was talking to him, William was very nice.
And so was Aunt Evie, really, but having Tess and her little brother, Max, around for the whole summer wasn’t probably what Aunt Evie had planned. She clearly enjoyed having Tess and Max stay with her but let’s be truthful: when the children’s mother had taken sick, their father was sent to Afghanistan and their boarding school in Switzerland had let out for break, what else was Evie going to say?
And so Tess and Max were stuck in England , their family scattered, and it was all rather boring until she met William. He was fun to play with and his back yard held a maze, a sculpture garden, and a lovely carousel with four big horses. William even let Tess keep a key to its gate. The castle was a strange and magical place where wishes seemed to come true, and William loved when Tess and Max came to visit.
His only warning: don’t go near the Hawthorne trees.
And that might have been an easy rule to follow, except that during a croquet game, Max hit his ball into the hedges and ran right into, well, you guessed it.
When William stepped into the hedge to try to save Max, Tess knew that she had to find them both. The castle was starting to disappear, and so were her chances.
She made a wish and stepped into the trees …
Much as I enjoyed “The Castle in the Mist,” I found one major problem: it didn’t seem long enough.
There’s a lot of ground to cover between the first word and the last, and things move fast here – too fast, in fact, and that leaves many plot-holes screaming for explanation. Author Amy Ephron tells a wonderful story, just not enough of it. I wanted to savor Tess’s secret key, her friendship with William, her relationship with Max, and the peripheral characters that are important here, but that are barely fleshed out.
I felt as though I’d sat down for a novel and ended up with a booklet.
Kids may like this story more. They might not mind the brevity of it, and it might be just fine. “The Castle in the Mist” is okay, but more meat would’ve been the key.
“The Art of the Affair”
By Catherine Lacey and Forsyth Harmon
c. 2017, Bloomsbury
$20, $27 Canada; 88 pages
It’s all about who you know. The guy who bags your groceries might have stock tips for you. A co-worker introduces you to your next best friend. You find a great restaurant from your stylist, a new job from a former classmate, and your neighbor gives you gardening advice. It’s all about who you know or, as in the new book “The Art of the Affair” by Catherine Lacy and Forsyth Harmon, it’s who you’ve dallied with.
Somehow, in some way, the people you meet leave fingerprints on your life. A laugh you’ll never forget, a bon mot you’ll quote, or even an attitude can be a memorable springboard for an idea.
That goes doubly for creative types, for whom romantic (or platonic) relationships, their “carnage of affairs” could lead to “countless works of art.” These unions, whether legal or otherwise, also left a tangle of threads between many artists and writers.
Essayist and editor Edmund Wilson, for instance, helped launch the career of Anaïs Nin, who later wrote erotica. Nin was “unapologetic about her … affairs,” of which there were many, including a banker, “probably a homosexual,” and novelist and playwright Gore Vidal, who himself had “a short affair” with writer James Baldwin, who called another man “the love of his life.”
Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington both collaborated professionally with Grammy-winner Ella Fitzgerald, but it was Marilyn Monroe who helped boost Fitzgerald’s career. Monroe talked the owner of an L.A. nightclub into booking the singer, and she attended each of Fitzgerald’s performances there. Monroe, of course, had her share of affairs, too, as well as a friendship with Truman Capote, who was repeatedly insulted by none other than Tennessee Williams.
Williams was no fan of Tallulah Bankhead, and the two publicly snarked at one another for years. Bankhead was an exhibitionist and didn’t care who saw her naked – which, presumably, included her lover, Billie Holiday.
Oh, and playwright Williams … ? He was a friend of Gore Vidal, who also knew Truman Capote and Anaïs Nin …
Did you ever go somewhere with someone who seems to know everybody? That’s what it’s like to read “The Art of the Affair.”
Author Catherine Lacey and illustrator Forsyth Harmon play a sort of six degrees of Kevin Bacon in their book- - except, not surprisingly, Bacon isn’t here. Instead, readers are taken back many decades to look at the dalliances and relationships of artists and stars of the early 20th century, and because very few contemporary artists grace these pages, there may be many times when you won’t recognize the people among the threads. That can be remedied through inference, but a better explanation (at least for some artists) might have been nice, as would an index.
Still, I liked the tidbits in this book, the mini-factlets between ties, and the obvious delight that author and artist lend to the love affairs they so diligently discovered. Light, gossipy, and a little scandalous, “The Art of the Affair” shows that it’s who you know that’s important – and I know you’ll like it.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.