Cathleen Schine’s latest novel, Fin & Lady, begins at the funeral of Fin’s mother in rural Connecticut in the early 1960s. His father has already passed away, and his older half sister, Lady, whom Fin hasn’t seen in six years, is now his legal guardian. Fin’s only memory of Lady is from a trip to Capri, where he and his parents went looking for Lady after she jilted her fiancé. Glamorous, careless and charismatic, Lady seems like an unlikely guardian for an 11-year-old boy, but she is all Fin has. Together, they set up a home in New York, first in the West Side apartment Lady inherited, then in Greenwich Village, where Fin comes of age along with the decade.
Lady is obsessed with her freedom, but equally consumed with being loved, and charges Fin with the inappropriate task of selecting the perfect husband. Lady is pursued by three ardent suitors—Tyler, a lawyer and the former fiancé; Biffi Deutsch, a Hungarian gallery owner; and Jack, a preppy jock. None of them seems quite right to Fin, although he likes Biffi the best, and Lady goes from one to another with a cavalier charm. Only Fin can see the pain behind her recklessness, the urge to run that Lady fights on a daily basis.
In a more conventional novel, there would be some kind of moral comeuppance for Lady’s irresponsibility and demands for adult behavior from a teenager. But in Schine’s world, nonconformity is acceptable, even preferable, and the family you make is as important as the one you are born into. Placed against the backdrop of the revolutionary 1960s, this nontraditional family seems part and parcel of the era’s social changes.
Just as the spirit of Jane Austen wafted through The Three Weissmanns of Westport, Fin & Lady seems inspired by Homer’s Odyssey—from the three suitors who hang around the Greenwich Village apartment to the references to Capri (the original home of the Sirens) and the battered copy of the Greek epic that Lady sends to Fin after she runs away for the second time.
Schine’s novels are as light and crisp as a perfectly baked meringue. They are sentimental, but without a shred of the saccharine, and she writes with a deeply felt empathy for all her characters. This comic romance will delight her fans, and may also win her some new readers for whom the swinging ’60s in New York and Capri may hold a special appeal.