While Katherine Mosby's cool, feline prose is entirely her own, careful readers will hear the faint echoes of Edith Wharton and Henry James in this beguiling second novel, The Season of Lillian Dawes
. In the wake of some adolescent antics at his private school, Gabriel Gibbs, a member of an extended aristocratic family in a privileged segment of society in post-World War II New York, is expelled. He is sent to live on West Ninth Street with his older brother Spencer, a poet and wit, who a female acquaintance describes as "one of those tall, charming men you know would be absolutely useless in an emergency." Here he first learns of the mysterious Lillian Dawes, whose allure, like that of Max Beerbohm's femme fatale, Zuleika Dobson, rests in part on her beauty and vivacity and in part on her perplexing air of detachment. But Lillian is not as detached as she seems. Only after her sudden disappearance from the lives of Gabriel and Spencer does her own troubling quest come to light. Part mystery, part roman à clef, The Season of Lillian Dawes
is a novel of distinction, with acid Salingeresque dialogue balanced by elegiac renderings of Manhattan in the 1950s. --Regina Marler
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From Publishers Weekly
Mosby's sensuous, lyrical prose, highly praised in her debut novel, Private Altars, is the saving grace of her second book, which turns out to be a contrived and inflated story that's long on atmosphere but short on credibility. The Gibbs brothers, Spencer and Gabriel, are scions of a humorless, oppressive blueblood family that takes snobbism to new extremes. Now orphans, the siblings have rebelled against their straightlaced relatives, and when 17-year-old Gabriel is expelled from boarding school, he moves in with his older brother in a seedy apartment in lower Manhattan. It's the 1950s, and a halcyon time for those in high society. Indeed, the rich are "shamelessly selfindulgent," while such humble figures as a men's room attendant and an elderly shoeshine "boy" show true nobility. While Spencer labors on a book of short stories, the preternaturally observant Gabriel wanders about New York, where one day he gets a glimpse of the tantalizingly mysterious Lillian Dawes, a beautiful woman in her 20s. Lillian is radiant and kind, and although Gabriel discovers that she uses several names and refuses to speak about her past, his adolescent crush grows acute after he and Spencer attend a Gatsbyesque house party where Gabriel becomes the unlikely confidant of several of the guests, including Lillian. When Spencer and Lillian fall in love, the course of Gabriel's loss of innocence begins. Mosby works too hard at making Lillian enchanting and multitalented and Gabriel presciently ubiquitous, and at portraying the rich as caricatures (one eccentric character takes her own heavy silverware to good restaurants, lest the house flatware not have the right weight). The melodramatic denouement, clumsily foreshadowed from the beginning, moves the book into the realm of overheated romantic fiction. That's too bad, because Mosby's elegant, poetic prose is as smooth and shimmering as velvet. One hopes she can create a more credible plot next time. 5-city author tour.
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