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Fin & Lady: A Novel
by Cathleen Schine

Published: 2013-07-09
Hardcover : 288 pages
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From the author of The Three Weissmanns of Westport, a wise, clever story of New York in the ’60s

It’s 1964. Eleven-year-old Fin and his glamorous, worldly, older half sister, Lady, have just been orphaned, and Lady, whom Fin hasn’t seen in six years, is now his legal guardian and ...

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Introduction

From the author of The Three Weissmanns of Westport, a wise, clever story of New York in the ’60s

It’s 1964. Eleven-year-old Fin and his glamorous, worldly, older half sister, Lady, have just been orphaned, and Lady, whom Fin hasn’t seen in six years, is now his legal guardian and his only hope. That means Fin is uprooted from a small dairy farm in rural Connecticut to Greenwich Village, smack in the middle of the swinging ’60s. He soon learns that Lady—giddy, careless, urgent, and obsessed with being free—is as much his responsibility as he is hers.
     So begins Fin & Lady, the lively, spirited new novel by Cathleen Schine, the author of the bestselling The Three Weissmanns of Westport. Fin and Lady lead their lives against the background of the ’60s, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam War—Lady pursued by ardent, dogged suitors, Fin determined to protect his impulsive sister from them and from herself.
     From a writer The New York Times has praised as “sparkling, crisp, clever, deft, hilarious, and deeply affecting,” Fin & Lady is a comic, romantic love story: the story of a brother and sister who must form their own unconventional family in increasingly unconventional times.

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Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

A Conversation with Cathleen Schine, Author of Fin & Lady

Interview by Tess Taylor

You make your story about Fin, a young boy growing up take place during a couple of years in the sixties when the country seems to be changing as fast as Fin is. When did you know what years exactly you'd write about?

The Beatles. That's one thing. I'm the same age as Fin, and for me, the arrival of the Beatles in 1964 was the beginning of the end of childhood. So it was definitely a personal affinity-- writing about the early sixties was extremely intimate for me. I mean, a few days ago, listening to a playlist I'd made of 1964 songs, I realized that they are the only songs I really know the lyrics to. But it's also true that the early sixties were an odd time generally, historically -- both innocent, full of hope and excitement, and also, ultimately, so radical and doomed. I began the novel with a curiosity about an eleven-year-old boy named Fin and a twenty-three-year-old named Lady, of how a boy would grow up with such an irreverent and, let's face it, irresponsible guardian. The sixties, so irreverent and irresponsible, were exactly the years I wanted, the years the two characters belonged in.

Crafting an authentic world from a kid's point of view is nomean feat. What was the process of creating Fin's voice like?

When I began the book, it was in the first person in Fin's voice, a sixty- year-old man looking back. I often start a novel in the first person and, with one exception, I always abandon it. Humor needs distance. So does sympathy. To write about love, or anger, or pain or friendship, I need the distance of the third person in order to get close enough. I did not find it terribly difficult to write from a child's point of view once I knew who Fin was. Perhaps beginning as I did, with the older Fin looking back, helped, even though I ditched all of that, every word. But children have such an eccentric way of experiencing the world, and I remember that feeling quite well, of being an outsider, an explorer, really, in the weird world of adults I liked the way Fin observed things from a different angle, literally—children are small, their eyes land on different objects, they see faces from below, they see things we adults miss. And, almost as important: I did not want it to be from Lady's perspective. For me, Lady was clearly, right from the beginning, someone on whom everyone else projected their ideas and explanations. There was something almost violently remote about her.

Lady is a wonderful character, both mythic and also fragile; larger than life, but also someone to whom Fin has a certain privileged and intimate access. How did you discover her?

It took me a long time and a lot of drafts to find Lady. Truly flawed characters are the most difficult and the most satisfying to write about, I think. She was merely unpleasant when I started, rather than nuanced or complex. It really took Fin to help me understand who she was. The more he watched her, the more I saw her. And one day, I realized that Lady gave Fin books to read. That gesture, that instinct, as well as the books themselves, brought her to life for me in a new, idiosyncratic but touching way.

Somewhere in the book we realize that there's another narrator, someone who also knows these stories Fin is telling. Did that voice always exist in that story? If not, how did you know you wanted to put it in?

No, the narrator's voice was originally Fin as an adult, but it was wrong, and I found much more intimacy and immediacy writing from his point of view in the third person. But then as the narrative progressed, the story itself led me to realize that there was a narrator and who that narrator was.

I notice that-whether in this book or say, The Three Weissmanns of Westport, you often seem to write about characters that are, well, wealthy. Do you feel that this is your literary milieu?

I wish it were my milieu, forget about the literary. None of my earlier novels had much to do with money, actually, but money is a powerful force in the world, and in The Weissmanns one of the things I wanted to look at was how different people react to the loss of that force—the loss of the comfort money buys, the loss of status, the loss of the lives they thought belonged to them. In Fin & Lady, money means something different. It means freedom, freedom from convention, up to a point anyway. And freedom from the need to get married. As the sixties went on, and freedom became liberation with a capital L, the assertive independence that Lady believes in became more accessible. But for Lady, it is money that gives her that kind of freedom, a kind of freedom few women had at that time. I'm not saying Lady's money buys her happiness. It doesn't. But it gives her room to be unhappy in her own way.

Here at Barnes & Noble we're always looking to hear about great new authors. What are you reading lately that captivates you?

Lookaway, Lookaway, a new novel by Wilton Barnhardt that comes out in August, just blew me away. It's so funny and so tart and so tender — I just loved it. It is, in a word, masterful. He's not a new author, but he is an under appreciated one, I think.

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Member Reviews

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by jenn d. (see profile) 11/09/18

 
  "Most members enjoyed this book"by Mary S. (see profile) 02/23/16

Easy, fast , engaging story.

 
  "This one is a sleeper needing discovery!"by Gail R. (see profile) 09/18/14

This book was a most pleasant surprise. It was a good read with characters that seemed real and alive. First we have Fin. He is an intuitive, charming young man. At age 11, an orphan after h... (read more)

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