Spinsters Paperback – Jan 1 2010
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Hero to millions of over-educated hipsters, Pagan Kennedy has produced zines, short stories, a semi-autobiography, and this novel, a tiny gem that disappoints only because it is too short. Fran and Dora, two aspiring spinsters who leave the home of their recently deceased father to search out elderly aunts in need of a codependant relationship, discover the youth culture of the late '60s as they drive across America. Coming to terms with the fact that they are not yet old enough to live out their fantasy life of quiet, feminine obsolescence, the two react in contradictory ways to the radical social change that they had failed to notice in their tiny New Hampshire hometown. Kennedy weaves political and personal history together in her extremely fluid prose, producing a work that is swift and moving, leaving the reader wanting more.
From Publishers Weekly
Kennedy's (Stripping and Other Stories) thoroughly delightful story of two road-tripping spinster sisters out to discover themselves will appeal to all but die-hard cynics. Frannie and Doris, both in their 30s, find their lives opening up in strange new ways once their father, to whom they sacrificed their young adulthoods, dies. On the road from Virginia to Arizona, Doris, always the popular, pretty one in high school, wants to party, while the more awkward narrator, Frannie, is still shy about men, having had her heart broken long ago. The story of Frannie's sexual awakening unfolds through her gently ironic narrative, which is filled with clever metaphors (her "curls [were] stiff as meringue") and is both innocent and self-aware ("that night I had a strange dream. It started off as any spinster's dream world, with worries about change lost and trains missed. But suddenly it shifted"). Effectively set against the backdrop of the late '60s?the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., the Vietnam War, the '68 Democratic convention?these two charismatic characters change and evolve in ways that reflect the nation's metamorphosis. While some readers may object to Frannie's selfhood emerging through sexual feelings for a man, such criticism is ultimately shallow, as this creative, witty and subtly adventuresome character is able to treat her sexual coming-of-age as yet another wonderful discovery in an unpredictable, quirky world.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
to say that "Spinsters" is like a box of chocolates. Each
chapter is a perfect little world, and when you finish one
you stop and say to yourself "Oh, I think I'll have just one
more." Before you know it the book is finished, and you sit
there, completely satisfied, but unsure as to exactly what
you have just consumed. So you stop for a moment, and like
remembering a particularly yummy nougat or macadadamia nut
center, you recall wonderfully realized moments, and smile
as each new memory of these characters, who have become a
part of your life, plays across the pleasure centers of your
brain. This book, like a box of chocolates, is deceptively
simple. As you bite into each chapter the chocolate is only
a facade covering the creamy, sweet inviting centers that
await with each page turn. But best of all reading this
book is an absolutely fat-free experience. All of the
pleasure, none of the guilt.
Living with their Aunt and her black maid Letty proves unfulfilling to the sisters. They decide to visit other relatives and this ultimately results in a road trip through America's Southern states.
As is evident from my above rating this novella (its word count is only some 63000 words) is not something I could easily recommend.
It is an agreeable and easy read but this only damns the novella with faint praise. I found the book lacking in subtlety and depth. The motifs, allusions and symbols are writ large. The pacifist Martin Luther King Jr is killed while the next day the World War II conscientious objector father of Dora and Frannie dies. America is going through huge changes and turmoil; the Vietnam War, the anti war riots, the race riots, women's liberation. These changes will irrevocably alter the country, politically, socially and culturally. America's Baby Boomers were attempting to rip the country from the hands of the pre World War II old guard and pull the country into a modern world. These events are mirrored, in a smaller way of course, in the lives of the sisters. Dora is outgoing, sexually active, gregarious and believes in a brighter future. Frannie on the other hand is old fashioned, strait laced and clings to the past and its apparent certitude.
They drive through Texas but decide not to stop in this particular state due to the oppressive heat. Of course, even five years on the sound of bullets can still be heard reverberating around the Lone Star state.
The conclusions to the all the story threads that weave through the book are foreseeable and rather too neat for a book that uses the America in the 1960s as its backdrop. The Vietnam War raged on for another four years. Nixon became President in 1969 and his Waterloo was still four years away. The times were a changin' but the old guard still had a grip on the political rudder.
If one was to read The Spinsters as anything other than an allegorical novel then one could find it enjoyable. The author Pagan Kennedy does have an elegant, clear writing style that throws up some wonderful images, a `saleslady whose hair was stiff as seven minute icing'.
Dora and Frannie's feelings of entrapment, loneliness and isolation while caring for their father will resonant with many people in an age where one in four people in the UK care for an elderly parent. The handling of this particular issue is what would earn this novella an extra half a mark.
No' of pages - 158
Sex scenes - none (there is some mild sexual references)
Profanity - none
Genre - drama
I had read Pagan Kennedy's non-fiction "Zine" years ago and it was one of my favorite books at the time, one I've re-read a couple of times since. I resolved then to try her fiction, but I didn't get around to it until now.
I enjoyed Spinsters, I liked the short, simple story revolving around the two sisters who embark on a road trip after their father's death inadvertantly frees them from the sheltered life they had known. This book didn't take many risks, and thus wasn't the kind of work that bowls you over, but it was still quite a nice read.
Kennedy's use of the book's time frame, 1968, was pulled off nicely, as she didn't overdo it. Instead of an exaggerated, tv-esque view of the 60s, I thought her portrayal was more quiet and well-stated. I also thought her characters were a good metaphor for the country at large breaking out of its personal repressions and taking a fresh look at their lives and the world. (I also liked the father having been a conscientious objector during WWII-and the experiments he experienced as a result; I like little nods to lesser-known history.)
I will admit to being a little disappointed by the plot curve and the ending of the story, but that didn't detract from my fondness for the book. I emphasized and had a soft spot for the sisters, and I look forward to reading more of Pagan Kennedy.