South Florida Writer's Heroine Struggles With Rhythm Of Romance.
August 02, 2009|By Chauncey Mabe Special Correspondent
Good Things I Wish You. A. Manette Ansay. Harper. $25.99. 258 pp.
The music in A. Manette Ansay's latest novel, Good Things I Wish You, plays in a minor key, but readers who persist in listening for it will be rewarded with a subtle meditation on the price a creative woman pays for romantic love.
Ansay shares some key superficial similarities with her heroine, Jeanette Hochman. Both are distinguished fiction writers with several novels behind them. Both are in their early 40s. Both live in Palm Beach Gardens and commute to tenured creative writing jobs at a university in Miami.
Whether the parallels extend further I do not know, but it is clear that Ansay is writing from perceptions of her everyday world. As for Jeanette, she struggles to raise a 4-year-old daughter in the wake of a painful divorce. She's also stymied in her long effort to write a novel about a trio of famous 19th century musicians.
Clara Schumann, one of the great pianists of the day, was married to the brilliant but mentally brittle composer Robert Schumann, and devoted to the close family friend, Johannes Brahms. Jeanette hopes to write her way into the truth of whether Clara and Brahms were lovers, a question that has bedeviled musicologists for 150 years.
Jeanette's problem isn't writer's block - she has 250 pages - but she recognizes what she's written as "procrastination, literary filler," filled with "facts that had nothing to do with the truth."
At first the German physician-businessman Jeanette meets through a dating service seems one more unpromising distraction. Though handsome, Hart is brusque and direct. His remark, "Men and women can never be friends," in particular gets under her skin.
When Hart calls a month later, Jeanette overrides her judgment, driving with him to Central Florida, where he pursues a hobby of flying gliders. By not rushing, frequently acknowledging how ill suited they are, Jeanette and Hart ease into a sexual relationship.
Scenes from Jeanette's story are interspersed with bits of Clara's tale, the latter adorned with period photographs, plus quotes from letters and diaries. Some readers, seduced by the operatic romance of Clara's life, may wish Ansay had devoted the entire book to it.
But Ansay wields a deft touch with modern character: Jeanette, though fragile, has enduring strength. Hart's foreign charm is nicely nuanced. And Calvin, the depressive and hard-drinking ex, is honorable despite his weakness and irrational animosity. Author of the Oprah-selection Vinegar Hill and Midnight Champagne, a National Book Award finalist, Ansay might well have focused exclusively on them.
Yet in its quiet way, Good Things I Wish You leaves no variation unexplored, and its delicate melody lingers after the final page.