Monday, January 28, 2013

Review: The Glimpses of the Moon


I had to read Edith Wharton’s dead depressing novella Ethan Frome in high school and, like most of my English class, hated it.  That put me off Wharton until a few months ago, when (with some trepidation) I purchased and tried The Age of Innocence, which I absolutely loved.  Amazing how some time, a little growing up, and a different premise can change your opinion about an author!  So over winter break, I bought two more of her books at my local used bookstore, The Glimpses of the Moon and Summer.  The latter promises to be similar to Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and I can’t wait to dive into it.  I’ve just finished the former and enjoyed it immensely.

I can’t say that I liked The Glimpses of the Moon (1922) quite as much as The Age of Innocence, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.  It was a lighthearted and engaging romp, and only toward the end when some tension built did I feel any anxiety as a reader.  It was lighter and easier than Age of Innocence, but that also means it won’t stick with me in the same way.  Glimpses of the Moon has Wharton’s trademark wit, social satire, and romantic tragedy, but on less grand a scale.  It would be a great introduction to Wharton, if you or a friend have never read any of her novels and were looking for a recommendation that was less difficult, dark, and depressing than her more famous books.

Susy Branch and Nick Lansing move in a fashionable and affluent circle, but are poor themselves, meaning that they are perpetual hangers-on to their wealthier friends.  They’ve grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle, filled with beauty and excess, but don’t have the means to maintain it themselves.  So, when their unexpectedly deep friendship is threatened by the displeasure of one of Susy’s wealthy friends, who has her eye on Nick, the two hatch a plan: they’ll marry and spend a year mooching off their friends, who will undoubtedly offer large monetary gifts and houses to stay in.  A full year of honeymooning.  And their pact states that if either one meets someone who can advance them socially and financially, the other won’t stand in the way.  After all, in their society, it’s common enough for new engagements to be announced before the divorce is even finalized!  Susy and Nick plan to help each other for a while, then go their separate ways, always maneuvering up the social scale toward greater wealth and independence.

The trouble is, marriage changes a person, and Susy and Nick’s friendship is deep and real from the beginning.  They aren’t actually equipped to intersect their lives for a while and then break off to go in separate directions.  Their close contact and shared hopes and dreams changes them both, and they suddenly realize that the personal sacrifices required to stay in the good graces of their wealthy friends might be more than they can accept.  And yet, as Susy muses, perhaps “to attain moral freedom they must both be above material cares…” (177).  To make matters more complicated, each has a wealthy admirer, and a dissolution of Susy and Nick’s marriage would open the possibility that neither would have to worry about money again.  The book follows their struggles to decide who they will become, what they’re willing to do to achieve their goals, and what lifestyle they truly want.  Individually, they strive for a happiness as elusive as the moon they occasionally glimpse in their most contented moments together, always knowing but unable to admit that their future happiness depends on the other.

11 comments:

  1. This sounds fascinating! (I know a couple much like this, ha!) I am adding it to my wish-list.

    I've been circling around The Age of Innocence for the past week or two. It finally made it to my bedside table. I have decided to read it in February. I've never read any Wharton but I've been reading such positively glowing reviews of her writing that I'm keen to give it a whirl.

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    1. I'd love to know which books you think are similar! And I do hope you give Wharton a try. A lot of her books are very different in style and tone, so if you don't like your first attempt, I would recommend trying a different one. I hope you like her!

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    2. Sorry to be so vague! I know a poor couple who are "perpetual hangers-on to their wealthier friends."

      I seem to be heading off on a Gothic romance path this week which surprised me! It all started with Jane Eyre and Northanger Abbey and now I'm reading Louisa May Alcott's "blood-and-thunder tales" which are so shockingly diverse from her domestic stories! For all the plans I make I'm still definitely a reading-by-whim sort of reader.

      Are you still enjoying reading from your own shelves?

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    3. I'm loving reading from my own shelves! For one thing, all these books are right here waiting to be pulled down; I don't have to fiddle with library requests (and trying to cart fiction home when I already have an almost daily stack of books to bring home for my research). It helps my husband feel like my book-buying isn't a total waste of money (he occasionally feels a little irritated if I buy a lot of books when I already have a very full to-read shelf). And best of all, I've been enjoying everything, which says that I've gotten pretty good at buying books I'll end up liking and keeping!

      A Gothic romance kick sounds great - and so perfect for this odd winter weather, don't you think? I'm shocked to hear that Alcott ever wrote anything besides completely upright, moral fiction for the edification of young ladies (which is not to say that I disliked the Little Women series, just that I found it rather one-note). How are you liking your Gothic romances?

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    4. So nice that you are enjoying the fruits of your book-buying labours! I recently moved some furniture around in the house and made room for a shelf in our bedroom where I can keep all my unread books in plain sight. It's so wonderful! I've been very busy so not reading much in the past week or two, but very much enjoying the "blood-and-thunder" of Louisa May Alcott. The discovery of the stories is a fascinating story in itself. I do wonder how many other authors have published under different names and gone under the radar!

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    5. One of my favorite things on book bloggers' sites is photos of their bookshelves and stories about what they have, why they have it, and how they've chosen to organize their books. Any chance you'd share your new shelf? I keep meaning to take photos of mine, but since the semester started I guess I've lost track of that plan.

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    6. Absolutely! And I would also love to see your shelves. It's one of my favourite things about book blogs too and it's always the first thing I notice in someone's house :)

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  2. I haven't read this one yet, but it sounds quite good. My favorite Wharton is Custom of the Country, which features one of the most despicable heroines I've ever encountered. It's riveting!

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    1. You've mentioned it before, and I'm eager to read it! The only reason I haven't already is because they didn't have a nice copy of it when I recently bought my other two new Wharton novels. It's definitely on the list though!

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  3. I have strong but negative feelings about this book and/or its characters, so I was going to rant about how awful Nick was (up to and including his self-congratulatory reflections on "a man's love" at the end), the disparity in their relationship and how wrong the happy ending felt. But then that was too long and er, ranty a comment, so I dropped it and will just say that I am glad that someone else read it and that I liked your review :)

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    1. Oh gosh, weren't those last couple pages awful? I was perfectly on board with them belonging together, and actually becoming better and more moral people because of their relationship, but when they finally got together and Nick was delighted that Susy had forgotten Stefford but at the same time was thinking about Coral... Yes, I agree that the ending had some significant problems. But I still enjoyed the book and was shocked that it had a happy ending (it being Edith Wharton and all).

      I actually really love a good rant. :-) Next time, fire away!

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