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Laura Rider's Masterpiece Hardcover – April 9, 2009

2.5 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Oprah-anointed Hamilton once again takes readers to the Midwest, this time lacing her narrative with winning humor. Laura Rider and her husband, Charlie, live in Hartley, Wis., where they own and run Prairie Wind Farm. After 12 years of marriage, Laura decides to stop sleeping with Charlie, and although lovemaking is his one superb talent, she's convinced she's used up her quota. Also, Laura has a secret fantasy: to be an author. After she meets local public radio host Jenna Faroli, Laura decides to write a romance and encourages a flirtation between Charlie and Jenna, an experiment that she thinks will help her write her book. Their flirtation quickly slides into an affair, with Laura's sly interference. Laura, at once jealous and pleased, benefits from the inevitable chain of events, while Jenna isn't so lucky. Though the plotting is a bit predictable, the female characters are sharply observed and delineated, and the humorous tone will be an appealing surprise to Hamilton's readers. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Best-selling novelist Hamilton turns to domestic satire with mixed results. Though humor is a welcome addition to this talented author’s bag of tricks, and her characters are certainly engaging, the quirky story line falls a little short of the standards set by Hamilton in The Book of Ruth (1988) and A Map of the World (1994). Marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be for small-town wife Laura Rider. She’s a little bored with the limited parameters of her midwestern life and exhausted from the physical attentions of her amorous husband. When would-be-writer Laura bans the amiable Charlie from the bedroom, she all but orchestrates an affair for him with her idol, Jenna Faroli, a public radio host. As her Machiavellian scheme successfully unfolds, Laura gains grist for her own ambitions. Of course, playing with people’s lives exacts a toll, but Laura doesn’t seems to mind the expense—especially when others pay for it. Though some readers may be puzzled by this new side of Hamilton, others will certainly want to go along for the surprisingly witty ride. --Margaret Flanagan
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 214 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; First Edition edition (April 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446538957
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446538954
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,676,216 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jane Hamilton is the author of The Book of Ruth, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award for first fiction, and A Map of the World, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and named one of the top ten books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, Publishers Weekly, the Miami Herald, and People. Both The Book of Ruth and A Map of the World have been selections of Oprah's Book Club. Her following work, The Short History of a Prince, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1998, her novel Disobedience was published in 2000, and her last novel When Madeline Was Young was a Washington Post Best Book of 2006. She lives in and writes in an orchard farmhouse in Wisconsin.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Laura Rider's Masterpiece is a satirical love/lust triangle of sorts mixed with a character study in novel form. The triangle involves Laura Rider, an aspiring novelist and successful garden business owner; her husband, Charlie, whom everyone in their small Wisconsin town thinks is gay, but whose main gift in life is his sexual prowess; and Jenna Faroli, a local turned syndicated public radio show host who has moved to town because it is equidistant between the radio station and her judge husband's courthouse. Laura idolizes Jenna, and is eager to start a friendship.

I love Jane Hamilton's novels, but one of my favorite things about her novels is that it's always easy to relate to the characters, regardless of their background. Laura Rider's Masterpiece started off well. I was instantly intrigued with Laura's wit and honesty as a narrator. Her description of small-town life was comedic and spot-on. As the narrative shifted to Jenna as the narrator, I again found myself mesmerized by her experiences and perspective.

As the novel wore on (and it's hard to say it wore on at all, given it's only 214 pages), it became more satirical, which made the characters less accessible. I was torn between feeling sorry for them and not caring about how things turned out. For such a great start, I did not enjoy the second half of the book. The setup was more enjoyable than the fulfillment. I really wanted to like this novel, and I loved the first half of it, but ultimately, it was underwhelming.
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Format: Hardcover
Laura Rider's Masterpiece is the story of Laura, an aspiring writer, her affable and henpecked husband, Charlie, and the object of their affection, local radio personality Janna Faroli. The book is described as a "full-blown comedy", but the humor is of the driest, darkest variety. The story reads like a doomed love affair, in that we meet the three main characters and see them as shining with potential, but as they are revealed in their entirety, we see that they are in fact boring, tawdry, clueless, pretentious and just plain thoughtless individuals. At the end, there is none of the initial infatuation and plenty of "I can't wait to be done with you" disgust. I didn't find the comedy in watching these three idiots (yes, I said it) tear apart their lives, but I don't laugh when I drive by a train wreck either. I appreciated Jane Hamilton's writing style much more in The Book of Ruth; Ruth is at least noble in her suffering. I picked this one up on a whim at the library, and had hopes that it would combine Jane Hamilton's beautiful writing with a good laugh- not so.
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Format: Hardcover
Laura Rider leads an ordinary Midwestern life. She and her husband Charlie own and run a thriving nursery and neither one of them have ever strayed far from their hometowns, let alone Wisconsin. Laura is gifted at designing beautiful gardens and Charlie does the heavy lifting and is gifted at making love. She enjoys gardening, but she harbors a secret desire to write a romance novel. She sees no irony in the fact that she wants to write romance novels when she refuses to sleep with Charlie because he wears her out. When Jenna Faroli, a Wisconsin NPR host whom Laura idolizes, moves to Hartley, Laura sees and seizes the opportunity to make her dreams come true.

All is not what it seems in Laura Rider's Masterpiece. Laura Rider is a deliciously unreliable narrator. My first clue that something was not quite right took place at the Garden Club meeting. She was thinking about how badly a relationship with one of the member's brothers ended. Two traumatic things happened as a result that caused her to leave town for a year, but they are mentioned almost as an after thought. I stopped and re-read that section to make sure that I read it correctly. Time and distance diminishes pain, but there was something unsettling about how removed she was from her own past.

After Laura returned to town, she did all that she could to ensure that she remained in control. She didn't marry Charlie so much because she loved him as that she could make him heel. He wasn't one to create waves when she what was best for their business and made plans for its future. He simply provided the muscle needed to get the job done. Despite the fact that she was no longer sleeping with him, allowing her to be in control enabled him to stay young at heart.
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Format: Hardcover
How can a good author even bother to publish such drivel? This is in no way comparable to any previous Jane Hamilton books. Although the premise is amusing, the book ultimately goes nowhere and lacks the depth and story line of her previous works. I really hate to see an author start publishing just to publish. It irks me to pick up a book by an author I've read before and find myself let down so completely.
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Format: Hardcover
I am puzzled by some of the responses here to the LOL funny and smart Laura Rider's Masterpiece. I think the ratings vary so because Jane Hamilton has always straddled two audiences--- the "juicy Oprah novel" crew and her literary following. This book is openly sophisticated and is really about adultery (think John Updike on helium) and the craft of writing--- subjects that appeal more to the Wink wink knowing (and probing and wondering) crowd of writers and critical readers. This book had me snorting with its satirical humor and insights into art and marriage and culture and, yes, class. Essentially, it rocked! I don't usually write Amazon.com reviews, but it bothered me to see this unique book misunderstood.
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