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Reading on the Road, with Janet, Jane, Jo Baker, and my Mom

With so much of my family on the East Coast, my trips back here from California become elaborate omnibus affairs, with so many craftily-designed stops up and down the eastern seaboard that I sometimes lose track and wind up having to pay megabucks for a last-minute Amtrak reservation (and worth every penny, needless to say, especially when that leg of the trip included seeing my granddaughters and their parents).

My trips are sometimes built around book promo, sometimes around family events — weddings! bar and bat mitzvahs! (I’ve always been delighted by the strange ironic Jewish genius that causes us to celebrate the advent of a kid’s journey through darkest adolescence). This one was a Connecticut bar mitzvah, w/ the cantor setting a few psalms to Leonard Cohen’s Halleluiah. Not bad.

But I also kind of made it a book event, by bringing a copy of Jo Baker’s novel Longbourn — the Pride and Prejudice story as lived by the servants — to my Mom for a belated 92nd birthday present. Belated-shmelated —  my mom was really wanting to read it and so have I been ever since Janet Mullany started rhapsodizing over it. Rightly, as it turned out; Longbourn‘s every bit as good Janet said..

And so Mom and I spent a happy two days reading at her kitchen table, she turning pages and I (some 100 virtual Kindle pages ahead) coldly and cruelly refusing to reassure her about how it all turns out. Not that I could have done much about it even if I’d wanted to, because Baker keeps you guessing (hoping, agonizing) until the very end.

And that’s all you’re going to find out from me, except to say that Longbourn made me weep and marvel. For me it was what novelist and critic Christopher Beha calls holy crap fiction, the kind of book where you finish it and think, “holy crap, what was that about?” Fiction that makes you think differently.

Mileage may vary, of course. One person’s holy crap book… But I’m still mulling over all that (and thanking Noah Berlatsky  for his smart comments on Beha, and for turning my thoughts toward these knotty and entertaining matters). And also mulling over whether Longbourn, though not written for the romance market, could be considered a romance novel.

Stay tuned.

And if you’ve read Longbourn, I’d love to know what you think.

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