Friday, May 1, 2009

Advice from Maureen Part II

Maureen let me down this time. Once again I had turned to my scribbled list of book recommendations by NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan. I had enjoyed her “Queen of the Tambourine” suggestion, the story of a quirky London's housewife emotional journey. So I decided to try Lady of the Snakes by Rachel Pastan, another Maureen pick.

Jane Levitsky is Russian literature scholar, whose area of study is a fictitious nineteenth century novelist named Grigory Karkov. But her research has drawn her even more towards Karkov's long-suffering wife Masha, whose diaries she is studying. At first the story unfolds as a literary detective story, as Jane attempts to discover whether Karkov may have used his wife's writings in his novels, and whether she committed suicide. But then there are domestic complications. As Jane pursues her path to academic success, she neglects her sweet, kind husband Billy and her adorable two year old daughter Maisie. And we all know that when a woman chooses her career over her family, bad things happen to her. So of course they do. When Jane takes a quick trip to Chicago to continue her research, she reconnects with a mentor who was a rising academic star, only to discover that her friend has abandoned her career to devote herself to her husband and three children. Feeling guilty, Jane? And there's the Karkov scholar Otto Sigelman, an angry and malevolent old man who deceives and betrays Jane. He seems to represent what happens to those who choose academic stardom at all costs. Then Jane neglects to charge her cell phone, so she misses a call from Billy telling her that Maisie has been rushed to the hospital. Ouch! Bad mother! And of course husband Billy eventually tires of playing second fiddle to a dead Russian so he seeks comfort elsewhere. Can this marriage be saved?

Pastan does a good job with the literary mystery side of the story, creating a believable voice for Masha in her diary entries. But the domestic drama was just too formulaic for my tastes.

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