- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Counterpoint (May 31, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1582433321
- ISBN-13: 978-1582433325
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 35 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #873,984 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Disturbances in the Field: A Novel Paperback – May 31, 2005
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Showing 1-2 of 35 reviews
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It is a miracle of a book where almost nothing happens other than the ordinary things in life that do happen: a job opportunity, a new boyfriend, a difficult childbirth followed by an easier one, friends supporting one another through life's mistakes, joys, and changes. Jumping around in time, but taking the time to fully develop each scene, Schwartz shows us childhood holidays at the beach, dorm-room discussions in college, experiments in dating, small problems of parenthood. The book is never sentimental, there are rough patches along with the smooth, but the novel achieves what is generally thought impossible: depicting a happy family, a life of contentment, without resorting to melodrama. It also (to my male eye, but women friends agree) captures the essence of womanhood like no other book I have read. This is life as it really is, and you never want it to end.
Then, at the exact halfway point, something does happen, far more dramatic than anything before or since. I won't say what it is, but the chapter in which it occurs is a tour-de-force of tumbling emotions interspersed with moments of stunned catatonia and tiny but true little details. The first part of the book had been called "Families and Beginnings"; the second half is simply "The End," and you wonder if anything can ever be the same again. Well no, it can't, and much of the second half of the book tests the easy assumptions of the first half. But Schwartz lets in just enough light that you trust her to lead you through. Music will play a part (Schubert's "Trout" quintet in particular); friends will lend support; the habit of philosophy will help -- as will a little sex, and an evolving understanding of love, pride, and need. The ending is no more sappy than the opening had been, merely a renewal of possibility, but that is enough.
Even amid the chaotic opening of the second part, the Shaker "Simple Gifts" will make an unexpected and beautiful return. The song sings of "turning," and there is plenty of painful turning to be done before the book ends -- and beyond it too, most likely. But it is also a promise: "Tis the gift to be simple, the gift to be free, the gift to come down where we ought to be." Schwartz's deeply rooted novel opens with the first and second of these gifts, but it is the possibility of the third that means the most.
The book starts off in 1980, and we are introduced to Lydia Rowe. She is a skilled pianist, happily married to her artist husband Victor. She has 4 great kids, between the ages of 8 and 16. Life is good for Lydia. She is having a discussion with her old therapist friend George about the concept "disturbances in the field". She wants to understand what that means, and as we read this brilliant novel we come to understand its real meaning and affect.
From the start, we know something Bad is going to happen. But we don't know what. (And again, no spoilers here.)
The book goes back and forth in time. We go back to Lydia's idyllic childhood, and in particular one summer when she was the happiest - when her parents rented a brown beach house for three weeks during the summer. She fondly remembers her relationship with her sister, and her mother and father.
We also spend a few chapters back at Barnard, in the 1950s, where Lydia develops a lifelong friendship with a small group of women. We listen to their idealistic and intellectual and philosophical discussions, and watch them as they go through life.
I just loved this book. I am reading my own summary above, and it sounds rather trite. There is nothing trite about this novel. This book is about memory and love and friendship and family. And what that all means, in the fullest definition of all those words.
Although this book is very dense, in the sense that there are often meandering conversations concerning philosophy and intellectual theory, it is still a compelling read and I finished it in one sitting. I rarely do that.
The foreshadowing is excellent. I could not put the book down until I knew what that foreshadowing was leading to, and I dare anyone to put the book down after that.
This would be a great book club pick. I can't remember when I've last read something that so perfectly expressed the feeling and consequences of grief, and so perfectly describes female (and male) friendship and obligation.
Highly recommended. If it seems like a bit of a slow-go at the beginning, hang in there just a few pages more.