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Constance: A Novel Hardcover – July 9, 2002

3.5 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Cantrell occupies herself with the classic trio of poetry, beauty and tragedy in this promising debut novel set in New York City. Morgan Clifford is a recently widowed editor at the venerable publishing house of Peabody & Simms. Years of watching glittering literary careers being created for mediocre writers by "the metallic maw of the publicity machine" have left her disillusioned and frustrated, but when the work of a mysterious and exceptional young poet, Constance Chamberlain, appears on her desk, it reignites her love for literature and life. Cantrell draws an entrancing character in Constance, who is at once fiercely talented, strikingly beautiful and appealingly old-fashioned. When she takes Morgan into her confidence to divulge a consuming love affair with a prominent (and married) businessman, her delicate reserve yields to reveal astute insight and unwavering passion. Constance's poems are interspersed throughout the narrative, as if to test Morgan's suggestion that Constance circumvent the publishing industry's reluctance to publish unknown poets by weaving her poetry into a novel. This approach is occasionally marred by the poetry itself; it is hard to remain convinced of Constance's extraordinary attributes when her work is so pedestrian. With Constance's untimely death, Morgan is forced to reexamine some of the myths that she built around the poet. It appears that Constance was both more tormented and less isolated than she seemed, which puts a refreshing spin on what threatened to be a predictable conclusion. Even the posthumous publication of her poems by Peabody & Simms is less triumphant than expected, as Morgan realizes that being elevated to the status of Emily Dickinson's editor "had not been the point at all." Cantrell writes with careful precision, and despite the flimsy poetry, Constance's story is subtle and touching.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Morgan Clifford is an editor at Peabody & Simms, a prestigious publishing house that specializes in literary fiction. After reading the poetry of Constance Chamberlain, Morgan knew she found a special writer. Constance herself is an enigma--a beautiful young woman who is both innocent and guarded. She and Morgan share a deep respect for literature, but Morgan knows how difficult it is to publish poetry, and reluctantly encourages Constance to try to incorporate her poetry into a first novel. As Morgan gets to know Constance, Constance tells her about her love affair with Lou Ellis, the well-known CEO of an investment company. Lou is married, and though he appears to adore Constance, Morgan worries that his devotion to his family won't allow him to leave his wife. Ultimately, it takes a tragedy to bring Constance's poetry to the wide readership it merits. Both polished and thoughtful, Cantrell's elegant debut novel ponders the plights both of a writer and an editor in a world where art must compete with business sensibilities. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (July 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375507965
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375507960
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,770,271 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Constance is narrated by Morgan Clifford, a fiction and poetry editor at a prestigious NYC publishing firm who has, over time, become disillusioned with her career. Morgan is still mourning the untimely death of her husband when she discovers the work of Constance Chamberlain, a beautiful, enigmatic poet whose work reignites Morgan's passion for classic literature. In the beginning of the book Morgan states "Constance, the woman who gives her name to this book, came into my life, it seemed to me, at a time when I needed to be brought back into life.". Although Morgan wants to see Constance's work published, she realizes that in this day and age of corporate politics, good writing is not all that matters. Thus, she tries to talk Constance into incorporating her work into a full length novel, thereby making it more sales worthy. But alas, Constance is completely devoted to writing poetry and won`t hear of it. As the two become fast friends, the veil of Constance's secret life unfolds and races to a unforgettable conclusion.
Catherine Cantrell's debut novel is a breathtaking masterpiece of melodious writing which takes us into the heart and soul of a dedicated young artist. This is a beautiful, tender story that should not be missed.
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By A Customer on January 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The only reason that I continued reading this book was because I didn't have another book to read. It's very rare that I feel as strongly about a novel as I do about this one - but I could not warm to it. While the language of the novel generally flows nicely, the content seems silly on multiple levels. The narrator, as an editor, frequently references classical authors and their novels. While some of the content of these discussions is thoughtful, the characters are often annoying as they consider themselves to be peers of these amazing writers. The editor frequently trashes the "hacks" she sees getting published, and yet her protege, Constance, doesn't seem to produce anything of note. Cantrell makes the dangerous, and in this case poor, decision to include Constance's poetry in the book. I think one would be hard-pressed to find any redeeming talent in these poems. I would describe them as "high-school" caliber. Since the novel is built on Constance's rare talent, I found myself constantly questioning if it was worth it to turn the page. I couldn't help but feel that Cantrell mentions all of the "greats" as a way of elevating her novel - as if name dropping might yield something. She does a similar thing with her setting in Manhatten. She frequently opts out of interesting descriptions, in favor of name dropping. "walking down 6th Ave," various hotel and restaurants names, "Rockefeller Center" etc. Before I moved to Manhatten, I had no idea what these setting were like, and I wouldn't have found out by reading Cantrell's book.
The characters aren't much more interesting than the plot, which reveals itself rather artlessly. There isn't much of a build up, rather elements of the story are just thrown at the reader.
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By A Customer on December 12, 2003
Format: Paperback
I agree completely with the comments regarding the poetry in the book -- if you want to illustrate what a great poet someone is, you don't give so many examples of boring, uninspired poetry. A good editor would have gently explained this to the author and convinced her not to include the poetry! The picture of present-day publishing is also pretty skewed; if you believe any publisher would permit an editor to spend so much money on expensive meals for an author who isn't likely to produce any revenue for the company, no matter how well-connected she is, think again.
Okay for a first novel, but I expected a whole lot more from the praise for the book on the cover and inside-the-book quotes. Perhaps Cantrell is well-connected herself.
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