Posts Tagged ‘julietwilbortompkins’

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The Seed of the Righteous

June 3, 2018

The Seed of the Righteous feels like Juliet Wilbor Tompkins’s entry into the subgenre that includes V.V.’s Eyes, The Clarion, and A Poor Wise Man. But those are about wealthy young people coming to terms with the ethical realities of their situations, and this is about a poor one. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Starling

May 7, 2018

For someone I think of primarily as an author of fluff, Juliet Wilbor Tompkins writes an awful lot about people who, out of fear (Dr. Ellen) or selfishness (Diantha, Pleasures and Palaces) stifle the growth of others, usually family members. But usually it’s a subplot, and in The Starling it’s the entire book. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Top of the Morning

May 1, 2015

The Top of the Morning is the next Juliet Wilbor Tompkins book on the slate, mostly because I didn’t find the title that appealing, and I like to save the best for last. Yes, Joanna Builds a Nest and Open House are probably the two most appealing titles. No, I don’t know why I did that.

Anyway, the title isn’t great, but I like the book a lot. It’s episodic, just short of making me wonder whether it was originally published as short stories. And I haven’t tried to find out, but I’d guess it wasn’t.

The book follows a close-knit group of writers and artists who refer to themselves as “Us” and manage to stay just on the right side of the adorable/cloying divide. There’s Charlotte, an artist in her 30s with a teenage son. She’s very much the mother of the group, and not only because she is one. Paul is a sculptor, and he’s almost too perfect. He’s talented and wise and everyone loves him. Lanse and Evelyn are a pair, but it’s not clear whether they’re an item. They’re both from wealthy, upper class families. Lanse writes plays, and Evelyn is, I suppose, his muse. And then there’s Donna and Lorimer, who are sort of…Carolyn Wells, roughly, and maybe Oliver Herford or Gelett Burgess. Donna writes poems and humorous verse and children’s stories and stuff for magazines, and Lorrimer Ffloyd is a caricaturist. They’re best friends and they may or may not be in love with each other. Charlotte’s son Cameron, with his talent for being an appreciative audience, rounds out the group.

Different chapters cover their different struggles — Lanse’s fight with his father over his career, Donna and Lorrimer’s difficulties dealing with their respective moderate amounts of fame, Paul’s uncertainty about how to fulfill his potential. Most of the chapters left me wanting to stay with their central characters for a bit longer. Some of the chapters left me feeling kind of sad. The ending did both, partly because Tompkins wants to leave things open ended and provide closure at the same time. It doesn’t quite work, and in the last pages I got impatient with both the writer and the characters and decided that never mind, I don’t want to know.

Mostly I want to discount that last minute change of heart, though, because I enjoyed almost all of the book while I was reading it, and I do want to know more about stuff, especially Donna and Lorrimer and how the situation with Paul that I don’t want to spoil is going to pan out. And even in the context of Tompkins’ general focus on work, it’s fun to get these specifics of studio life and relationships between writers and magazines and things like that. Tompkins never names someone’s profession and leaves it at that; you get a pretty clear idea of how everyone’s income breaks down. I wonder if this book is a little more autobiographical than most of Tompkins’ work — it’s hard to find out much about her, but she seems to have been part of a clique that included Burgess, author Frank Norris, and artist Ernest Peixotto. And if it is autobiographical, then I want to hear a lot more about Donna. Or, who am I kidding? I want to know more about Donna either way.

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Open House

April 18, 2015

So, Juliet Wilbor Tompkins is definitely going to be a Thing for me. Open House was almost as satisfying as Joanna Builds a Nest, and much less disconcerting.

At this point 75% of the books I’ve read by Tompkins have as a thesis the idea that no one can be happy without some kind of work. That’s a thing I also believe — probably for slightly different reasons — and it tends to produce exactly the kind of book I want to read. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Joanna Builds a Nest

April 15, 2015

Do you ever feel like a book knows you too well? I got about 75% of the way through Joanna Builds a Nest being totally delighted by it, and then I got to a point where I felt like my id was looking me straight in the eyes and I really, really wanted to look away. So, um, I’m going to try to write about the book as if that didn’t happen.

Juliet Wilbor Tompkins is pretty good with competent female characters, although in the other books of hers I’ve read — which were earlier — I felt at times like she was apologizing for them. I didn’t feel that way here. Joanna Maynard is about thirty, and works in publishing. She’s good at her job, and her firm couldn’t get along without her. Her real genius, though, is for design, and she reflexively turns unappealing spaces into comfortable, welcoming ones. She’s moved from apartment to apartment, making each one over until her landlord can charge more than she can afford to pay, but now she’s bought a house, and is free to do her worst. Her worst, I imagine, is pretty fantastic. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Dr. Ellen

July 11, 2011

I really don’t know what to say about Dr. Ellen. Except this: if you read Pleasures and Palaces, also by Juliet Wilbor Tompkins, you will not find it to be anything like that.

Structurally, Dr. Ellen is centered around three women: there’s Ellen Roderick, who lost a husband and a child in quick succession, used her period of mourning to study to become a doctor, and then moved into a mountain cabin and set up as a physician for the locals. Then there’s her younger sister, Ruth Chantry, who lives with Ellen, but doesn’t share her ideals or sense of purpose. Ruth is young and vibrant and wants to be around people all the time, and she’s increasingly resentful  about the way Ellen keeps her in isolation. The third woman is Ruth’s friend Christine O’Hara, shallow, easygoing, and flirtatious, who provides Ruth with a brief respite from her exile when she invites her for a visit.

It’s on that visit that Ruth and Philip Amsden meet. Philip is in his thirties, and architect, and not so much stuck-up as aloof. Also, he’s the person the book is about, really. He’s captivated by Ruth’s enthusiasm, and her naive enjoyment of everything, and lets himself be drawn into the various activities Christine has scheduled for Ruth’s amusement. Read the rest of this entry ?