My latest Grievance – Elinor Lipman

[asa left]0618644652[/asa] The narrator of this first person novel is Frederica Hatch, a teenager and the only child of two ultra liberal professors whose primary purpose in life is bringing her up to be a strong, well adjusted, analytical and happy person. Frederica makes fun of her parents but it’s clear at all times how much she loves and admires them.

The setting for this novel is a small fictional all women college outside Boston, one with no pretensions to academic excellence — not so long ago it was two-year college dedicated to producing secretaries who ‘married up’. Things have changed, and Fredericka’s parents are a big part of that.

The launch of the real story is Fredericka’s discovery that her father had a first wife. Her curiosity gets the upper hand and she sets a series of events in motion that bring the dramatic and narcissistic Laura Lee French to campus as a dorm housemother.

Aside from matters of personal history and potential embarrassment, it could have all worked out well except Fredericka never reckoned with Laura Lee’s need to put herself in the middle of high stakes drama, and her willingness to create those dramas in the most destructive ways possible. Laura Lee immediately launches herself into a very obvious affair with the married president of the university, with results that are only partially predictable. The Hatches get mired in the middle of all that, and their family ties and child rearing philosophies are put to the test.

This novel is in some ways very typical of Lipman’s other work. Laura Lee is a lot like the birth mother in ‘And then She Found Me’ — flamboyant, self centered, disdainful of laws and rules when they get in her way. On the other hand, while many of Lipman’s novels end just when the going gets interesting (‘The Pursuit of Alice Thrift’), this one carries through, so that we find out what happens to everybody for years down the line.

I like that kind of thing, so that made me happy. What I’m still not sure about is the first person narrator. I liked Fredericka, but it’s hard to tell a story like this from a teenager’s limited perspective. I would guess that Lipman liked the challenge of that, and for the most part she pulled it off. And it is interesting to see the union-oriented, this-family-is-a-democracy Hatches deal with a precocious teenager.

I liked this novel a great deal more than some of her work, but not as much as The Inn at Lake Devine.