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Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story Paperback – September 11, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Tracy Farber, a 33-year-old not-yet-tenured English professor at an unnamed New York City university, works to subvert Tolstoy's famous statement that "happy families are all alike" by investigating whether American fiction can "have an ending that's both honest and happy." Satisfied with her independence and her challenging academic career, Tracy's only worries are her girlfriends' romantic problems and bitter colleague Joanne, who is on a professional witch-hunt over grade inflation. Until she starts dating earnest education policy consultant George; the two have a two-month whirlwind romance before getting engaged, but when they hit a rough patch, Tracy finds real happiness isn't necessarily the stuff of her academic research. Her romantic difficulties (and joys) share near equal time with Tracy's academic pursuits and university politics: Tracy's best friend considers resigning to be with his lover; a visiting Oxford professor shakes up the department; a high-strung graduate student melts down; and Joanne's increasing rancor puts Tracy's tenure at risk. Kadish (From a Sealed Room) writes about relationships with as much passion as she does literary theory, and her intelligent narrator—intensely aware of romantic clichés—gives this novel insightful traction that 21st-century feminists will appreciate. (Sept. 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Tolstoy wrote, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Tracy Farber is out to prove him wrong. Happiness can be just as interesting and complicated as unhappiness, and she's got proof. She's 33, single, and a professor of English about to get tenure at a prestigious New York university. She's happier than she has ever been, or at least she believes she is until she meets George. He is good-looking, intelligent, caring, and challenges all of Tracy's beliefs about life, work, and love. However, when George proposes after only a month, Tracy's life goes into high gear trying to sort out who she is, what she wants, and what will really make her happy. Meanwhile, Tracy puts her tenure in jeopardy when she butts heads with a prominent faculty member over a grad student's dissertation. Using quotes from Shakespeare to Melville, Kadish writes a very literary tale about the complicated steps we all take in the pursuit of happiness. It's not Tolstoy, but it is interesting and has a happy ending. Carolyn Kubisz
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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The novel hit a bump for me just after the beautifully written and funny beginning, which introduces us to Tracy Farber, the thirty-three-year-old and happily-single English-professor protagonist. Ms. Kadish then does a graceful segue from Tracy's interior monolog into academic reality when a student knocks on her door. But shortly after that the novel loses tension as her best pal Jeff appears, and engages her in a sophomoric dialogue about ties. We meet the longest-running denizens of this department (nicknamed `Grub' and `Paleozoic' by Tracy and Jeff), in a long passage which sounds like an unmotivated rant against Old White Men. Personally, as a woman, I feel a great deal of sympathy for Tracy's predicament. But I couldn't see what the point of it was. Even worse, it slowed the novel down to a crawl just when it was important to keep the pacing going to draw the reader in. It was almost like reading an information dump in an historical novel. The problem could have been solved by having this section cut into pieces and slipped into the novel so that the reader could have received the information needed while keeping the pacing tight.
My other complaint is that it takes too long to meet the antagonist, all of forty-six pages according to my Kindle edition. This perhaps wouldn't have been such a problem, except that the novel didn't come to life until the entrance of Joanne Miller. That makes the pacing too slow between pages 14 and 46, too long for many readers. But once Joanne appears, Ms. Kadish's writing is masterly, and I have to say I am glad I stuck through those thirty-two pages of relatively uninteresting stuff. Because from then on, TOLSTOY LIED is a dishy ride, and includes a delicious twist at the end. Four stars.
Tracy is a thoughtful heroine, and her life and conflicts seem very realistic despite the occasional over-the-top character (Aunt Rona and Yolanda, I'm looking at you). Academic politics really can be this nasty, and New York City really is chock-full of interesting characters. The reason I'm giving this 4 stars is that I did not find Tracy's relationship with her mentally unstable student completely convincing, or well-explained, and that is a problem in terms of plot development. It is, however, more than balanced out by the other plot lines in the story. Kadish makes great use of every character that is introduced, including the departmental secretary, and there are so many clever lines and funny moments that I am ordering my own copy of the book to re-read and lend to others.
Kadish has lots to say and gives the reader lots to think about.