The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 6 July 2004

Foreign Affairs

by Alison Lurie

An early paperback edition of this novel makes it look like a torrid and pulpy romance. In the opening chapters, it is hard to shake this book-by-the-cover impression. But as the novel progresses, it becomes more engrossing and more entertaining. Vinnie Miner is a professor of English at Corinth University in upstate New York (Cornell, perhaps). She is 54 years old and is followed around by an imaginary dog representing her low self-esteem. She is also a scholar of children's literature and an avowed anglophile. The book opens as she boards a trans-Atlantic flight beginning a five-month sojourn in her beloved London. Aboard the plane, she meets Chuck Mumpson, who will figure largely in her trip abroad. In London, also, is a young and very handsome colleague, Fred Turner, who is doing his own research until he meets a fiery English actress. These two tangentially connected relationships become the alternating story that unfolds in Lurie's fluid and engaging book. Vinnie is a bit of a modern spinster, and doesn't like having her genteel London life disturbed by Chuck's jolly tourist behavior. And yet his good natured charm insinuates itself into Vinnie's heart. Fred has left his wife, Roo, back in the states, after she stubbornly displays photographs that leave Fred doubting her fidelity. Rosemary, the actress, is a refreshing distraction, but she is also flighty and perhaps unstable. Fred's story grows somewhat bizarre, while Vinnies grows more touching. Both stories unfold almost conveniently. Lurie writes in an almost British style herself, and one might wonder how much of her lives in Vinnie Miner. The book certainly carries more depth, though, than the implied romance of its old cover. It is entertaining, often funny, but also warm and inviting.

(For this novel, Lurie was awarded the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.)

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