Friday, September 26, 2008

REVIEW: So Long at the Fair, by Christina Schwarz

So Long at the Fair, by Christina Schwarz. Published 2008 by Doubleday.

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Oh Dear what can the matter be?
Dear, Oh dear what can the matter be?
Oh dear what can the matter be?
Johnnie’s so long at the fair.

He promised he'd buy me a fairing should please me,
And then for a kiss, oh! He vowed he would tease me,
He promised he'd bring me a bunch of blue ribbons
To tie up my bonny brown hair.
Oh Dear what can the matter be?
Dear, Oh dear what can the matter be?
Oh dear what can the matter be?
Johnnie’s so long at the fair.

So Long at the Fair, Christina Schwarz's latest novel (she also wrote Drowning Ruth) takes its title from a traditional English schoolyard song about a young girl waiting for her beau to return from the fair. What can the matter be? Well, in this case, plenty. For one, while mild-mannered Ginny is separated for the day from her husband Jon, he's at the fair, literally as well as metaphorically, with his girlfriend Freddie. The action of the book takes place over a single summer's day, as Jon goes back and forth in his head over the two women- his damaged wife, to whom he feels bound by love and guilt, and his vixenish, oversexed mistress, by whom he is magnetized.

The narrative veers back and forth between the present, pregnant with ambiguity and suspense, and the past, loaded with secrets and shames. Both Ginny and Freddie are shadowed throughout their day by the past. Ginny, a landscape architect, spends the day working with local magnate Walter Fleischer, whose connection to her is eventually revealed, and Freddie is more literally followed by a friend-turned-stalker. Neither woman is presented as particularly sympathetic or likable- Ginny is too gutless, and Freddie too predatory and remorseless. And Jon, the liar and adulterer, is hardly a prince among men, so when it came to him choosing between the two women, I thought each would lose in her own way.

Which made it hard for me to care how it all turned out. What did keep me reading was the slow unveiling of the secrets of the past, even as confusing and muddled as the flashbacks seemed at times. Overall I found So Long at the Fair to be almost energetically average and middle-brow. Not bad necessarily, and there's an audience for it somewhere (maybe book clubs would find fruit for discussion in the characters' soap-opera worthy travails) but most fiction readers can skip this one.

Rating: BORROW

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.


Alyce said...

No need to send me the book, I just wanted to say that I will have that song stuck in my head for the rest of the night now! :) It's one that my mom used to sing to me when I was little.

Sandra said...

I'd like to have this please. Thank you.

Sandra said...

Technically I did not leave my email so:sfuhringer(at)sympatico(dot)ca. Thanks M.

Anonymous said...

I loved "Drowning Ruth," so I'm disappointed to hear this one doesn't measure up.

Jill said...

Agreed...the flashbacks were confusing and made for tough reading...just an average novel. Great review...

Tara said...

I felt very similarly as you about this book. It's very average, and as you said most people could miss this one and miss nothing.

Alyce said...

I think I'll pass on the mp3 of the song. I've always found it to be a bit eerie myself. :) Thanks though!

Shana said...

Marie, thanks for the review. I have a problem with books if I can't bring myself to like or sypathize with at least one character in the story.

Hopefully Sandra enjoys it!


Anna said...

I had such high hopes for this book! I really enjoyed "Drowning Ruth." Well, maybe I'll still check it out, but I won't push it toward the top of the stack. Great review in any case. :)