Frances and Bernard, by Carlene Bauer
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
This, right here, is one of my newest favorite books.
How can it not be, with its nod to my beloved Philadelphia and Flannery O’Connor, one of my favorite authors?
Well, not Flannery exactly. In this novel, the character of Frances Reardon is considered to have been inspired by the Southern writer; the Bernard in the title is poet Robert Lowell. Both real-life authors met in 1957 at Yaddo, a writers colony, and started corresponding shortly thereafter. Hence, Frances and Bernard is based on that correspondence and the relationship – what was and what could have been – between the two intriguing artists.
To quote the summary on Goodreads, this is a novel about
the kind of fast, deep friendship that can take over—and change the course of—our lives …. It explores the limits of faith, passion, sanity, what it means to be a true friend, and the nature of acceptable sacrifice. In the grandness of the fall, can we love another person so completely that we lose ourselves? How much should we give up for those we love? How do we honor the gifts our loved ones bring and still keep true to our dreams?
I can’t say it any better than that. Some of us have been lucky enough to experience such a fast, deep friendship. If it was a long time ago, Frances and Bernard will transport you right back to those heady, talk-about-anything-while-baring-one’s-soul days.
These are fascinating people. I was already a fan of Flannery O’Connor’s, but I admit I hadn’t read nor known much about this period of her life nor her connection with Robert Lowell, so Frances and Bernard was a treat.
Frances and Bernard is the rare sort of book that allows the reader to transcend reading. You forget you’re reading and instead you delve right into the prose and you become immersed in the beauty of the words because Carlene Bauer’s writing – as Frances and Bernard – is so damn good. Every single line.
“Irish girls from North Philadelphia can’t afford to think that they will be fine without the benevolence of the New Yorker, even as they give the New Yorker a Bronx cheer.” (pg. 76)
“Am I from Pittsburgh and just don’t know it? Someone else misidentified my city of birth as Pittsburgh.” (pg. 113)
“She [Frances] does not know anyone who has written and mothered, so she thinks it impossible. (I actually don’t either – all the women writers I know are libertines.) But she needs to be in control, and she has chosen to be in control of the people in her stories.” (pg. 135)
Here’s what I know about Carlene Bauer; she is definitely in control of the people in this, her debut novel.
5 stars out of 5. Highly recommended.