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Leeway Cottage: A Novel Paperback – May 9 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
In this sprawling family epic, Gutcheon (More Than You Know) chronicles how an unlikely marriage endures over the course of the 20th century. The novel is anchored in the idyllic, fictional summer colony of Dundee, Maine, which will always feel like home to Annabelle Sydney Brant, but turns on the story of the Danish resistance against the Nazis in WWII, a revolt Annabelle's Danish-born, half-Jewish husband, Laurus Moss, leaves the U.S. to join. Annabelle matures from the young, cosseted Annabee (coming-out parties in Cleveland, sailing in Maine) to the bohemian Sydney (voice lessons and a flat in New York City), clashing with her chilly, socialite mother, Candace, along the way. In New York, she meets Laurus, a pianist, and as they court, Hitler marches on Europe. When the Nazis invade Denmark in 1940, Laurus cannot rest idly with his homeland and family endangered, so joins the London-based Danish Resistance. During their separation, Sydney gives birth to the first of three children and Laurus's family escapes from Denmark to Sweden. The war and time apart change but don't estrange Laurus and Sydney, whose lasting union despite glaring differences puzzles observers: "Sydney and Laurus Moss were like a tiger and a zebra married to each other. What were those two doing together?" Charting a marriage against the backdrop of a tumultuous century, Gutcheon writes evocatively of love and war.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Gutcheon revisits Dundee, Maine, to create a Cinderella story with a different ending. Sydney Brant grows up in wealth and privilege, the apple of her father's eye. When he dies, she is left with her overbearing mother, who is impossible to please. Sydney escapes to Manhattan to be a singer, determined to live her life just the way she wants to. She meets Laurus Moss, a poor but gifted piano player from Copenhagen. They fall in love and marry, but World War II intervenes. Laurus, half-Jewish, goes to England to aid the Dutch underground, while Sydney stays home to have a baby and organize knitting groups. The horrors of the camps and his family's trials are mere annoyances to Sydney, whose world is all about sailboat races and children. Told against the backdrop of the amazing Danish Resistance and their protection of the Dutch Jews, Gutcheon's tale is more than just a story of a marriage; it's a metaphor for an era. Elizabeth Dickie
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The story begins with the well to do background of one of the main characters, Sydney, and how her ancestors built and lived in a cottage in a summer community. When Sydney is a young woman, good friends of her family live in Leeway Cottage which will be her home one day. Life is good for Sydney or so it appears. A Kennedy type life Sydney sails during the day and parties at night with her crowd of friends. Sydney is destined to come out at a debutante ball, attend college for a year or two, marry a wealthy man, bear children and hopefully live a happy life. But when her father abruptly dies and Sydney is left in her mother's demanding and at times abusive hands Sydney's home life changes considerably. And than a chance encounter with a Danish pianist, Laurus, and meeting him again in New York City when Sydney leaves home at 18, sets in motion two very different worlds which will soon collide.
The first part of the book describes to readers Sydney's dilettante lifestyle. And while her life with just her mother is considerably difficult, Sydney also inherits a great deal of money from her father which when she's 18 allows her to leave her mother's home. This money also allows her to buy Leeway Cottage when it goes on the market. And shortly after the birth of their first child and war breaks out, Sydney retreats to Leeway Cottage renewing her old friendships but this time on her own terms as a wealthy woman in her own right. But Laurus does not return to Leeway Cottage with Sydney. As a Dane and a Jew, Laurus feels compelled to return to Europe and serve in the underground jeopardizing his life and marriage. And now we have a shift in the book as Sydney is at home o once again living the high life among society despite the war while Laurus is hard at work not only trying to save members of his own family from Hitler, but the lives of other Danish Jews as well.
While I was familiar with some of the stories surrounding the Danish Resistance during WW II, I did learn more about this and enjoyed reading the historical information provided in this book. But then I began to wonder why I never felt the two distinct parts of the book never fully came together to tell one large story. While there were parts that were very well written I was left disappointed by the efforts of a writer who has done much better in the past. And just as I was about to finish the book I was further confounded by the last chapter and wondered if it was misplaced in the publishing process. After we learn about an illicit love affair which seemed to be written for shock value and the end of Sydney and Laurus' lives, Ms. Gutcheon returns to the war and describes Laurus' sister's life and release from a concentration camp. I still wonder why the author chose to end the book with these events since they seemed to come from left field.
I really wanted to enjoy this book and recommend it to others as I have done in the past with other books by this author. I do think that Ms. Gutcheon was trying to chronicle a marriage between two people from different worlds and not necessarily suite for a happy life together. Or perhaps she tried to show the different lifestyles of two characters and how their desires ultimately affected their lives together. In the end, though, I thought that the author might have done better to write two books rather than the one she did. That way we would have had a much larger story of the Danish Resistance and the life of a socialite.
If after reading this review you are still interested in reading worthwhile Beth Gutcheon books, I suggest you read her first book Still Missing or her wonderful paralleling story set over a period of 100 years, More than You Know.
I found Sydney to be an interesting and complicated character. I didn't care for her for most of the book, but I understood how she became the woman she was. All she's looking for is acceptance and strives her whole life for her mom's approval, even while taking joy in irritating her. The fact that Sydney herself alienates her daughters as her mother alienated her makes perfect sense. After all, her mother's behavior toward her guarantees that Sydney will never feel loved enough. In her mind she's under-appreciated and for once wants to be the center of attention. She achieves that with her frequent angry outbursts and by being difficult with everyone. She finally gets a measure of acceptance from her troublesome son, Jimmy, but only as long as she lets him do whatever he wants and defends him, no matter what the charges are and how guilty he is. Yes, Sydney drinks too much, is self-absorbed and spoiled and has no concept of the enormity of what happened to Jews in Europe during WWII, but she herself mentions how small her world is. Her experiences are simply too narrow. How many of us would have been the same way if we lived during that time?
I was disappointed with the lack of info on Berthe's suicide after Sydney found out about it. What happened? And what about Sydney being found in the embrace of an obviously gay woman? What happened? After Candace and whats-his-face die, what happened to The Plywoods?
The portion of the book spent in Europe was absolutely compelling. I would like to read an entire book on that alone. It was well written and inspiring. I put myself in Nina and Per's position and wondered if I would've risen to the challenge. The last chapter, which I presume to be part of Laurus's life movie, was brutal and I'm glad there wasn't more of that in the book, to be honest. But in the other parts of the book, Nina is no more a major character than her parents, Gladdy, etc. So, how strange that the only portion of the movie we see is about her, and not all of Laurus's life, like why he stayed with Sydney.
One more thing - I reread the first chapter of the book, as I frequently do when a book starts in the present and then goes back in time. I'd forgotten about the big deal the kids made about The Dress they found in an upstairs closet. I had to really think about it and then realized it was the dress that Sydney wore at her Coming Out, when her mother came down in the exact same dress. I don't know. While it was a turning point in that it pushed Sydney out of the house, it just didn't seem memorable enough to warrant the treatment it got in the first chapter as if we were supposed to expect some big scene with the dress.
Aaaanyway, I know I had some other issues with the book and would love to sit in a room with the rest of the people who wrote reviews, esp. the 5-star reviews, but I'll have to be content with reading further reviews to see if anyone can give me the insight I missed.
One more thing, I read More Than You Know recently and didn't find it to be the Tour de Force that everyone seems to think it is. I obviously missed something!
To call this novel "great beach reading" is to trivialize its impact and depth...but it certainly is the book to select if you want to be transported this summer.
As I read the book, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop: was Annabee/Sydney the daughter of Berthe Hanenberger Brant, or of Candace? How did Berthe really die, in childbirth or suicide? How did James meet Candace, and why did he marry her?
After going back through the book, I see that Berthe was supposed to have died in 1910, and Sydney was born in 1919. So that shoots that theory, but when Sydney began studying music after leaving home I thought for sure she was Berthe's daughter.
I loved the Moss family story. I think I understand why Nina's camp horror chapter comes at the end: Laurus has died, and he is seeing the "movie in heaven" that shows "the scenes you missed and the parts you never understood."
The reader gets to understand some things, too: during Nina's visit to Leeward Cottage in 1947, she refuses to go pick up the crying baby, much to Sydney's irritation, and now we know why.
I was hoping for more, after Nina's chapter. I wanted the missing parts of Candace's and Berthe's lives.
After some brilliant childhood descriptions, the daughters' later lives were not well drawn in my opinion. I couldn't tell them apart, and lost track of who they, and Jimmie, married.
One mystery, the affair between Sydney and Neville, was well dealt with. Another, the brief embrace between Sydney and another woman in 1943, remains completely veiled.
Sydney was a puzzle all right.
This would make a great book club discussion book, with collaborative minds to comb through all the little hints scattered throughout the narrative that are so easy to overlook.