Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review: Gossip by Beth Gutcheon

Sometimes a title and a cover don't do a book justice. In the case of Beth Gutcheon's novel, Gossip, this is especially true. The cover treatment and title suggest a lighter, frothier tale than the one told here. This stunningly, meticulously constructed novel is actually shot through with a dark and troubling undercurrent.

Lovie French owns an exclusive dress shop in New York. Her clientele is wealthy and discriminating and they rely on Lovie as much for her discretion as for her fashion sense. And she is nominally of the world of the women she dresses, having attended the same tony boarding school they all did, albeit as a scholarship student, and maintaining her closest friendships from that time in her life as well. Lovie is, in fact, the original thread that connects outrageous gossip columnist Dinah and old family respectable Avis, two polar opposites who accept each other on sufferance only because of their similar relationships with Lovie.

Spanning several decades in New York City, from the bohemian sixties to our post 9/11 world, Lovie's tale weaves backward and forward through time offering glimpses into the privileged life, ever evolving friendships, and the changes in the world over that sixty year span. From the roots of the animosity between Dinah and Avis to the riveting climax, we follow these three women through the relationships of their lives: marriage, divorce, parenthood, work, and enduring friendship. Their closeness waxes and wanes through the years as they withhold and keep secrets from each other but they never lose their connection, no matter how stretched or frayed it might be at times. And when Dinah's beloved son Nicky, Lovie's cherished godson, and Avis' daughter Grace fall in love and marry, the connection between these three women is cemented even further.

Told mainly from Lovie's perspective, the reader has to question her reliability as a narrator. While relating some pieces of her own life, she is certainly more focused on the lives of her friends, the domestic dramas and disappointments of their worlds. Her circumspection about her own long-standing affair with a married man and her rise in the fashion world are seemingly less interesting for her recounting purposes than the public dramas of her friends and they allow Lovie to highlight and reinforce her decades old second-class citizen who doesn't fit in feelings. There's just a dash of schadenfreude in her telling. As she unfolds the story, explaining why the novel opens with Dinah in the back room of her shop for privacy, she drops delicate hints about where the story must ultimately lead. There is a barely there ominous undertone throughout the novel and the reader's sense of foreboding increases as the story progresses.

This is a book of the small and everyday and the ways in which these tiny moments can come together to create a shocking whole. Gutcheon has captured this segment of New York society, the wealthy, the privileged, the glitterati so well, showing the undercurrents, the banality, and the trials of the lives of its members. She has created very different and yet equally interesting characters in all of the women. Each of them is fully fleshed out and real feeling. The writing throughout is precise and every word is freighted with deliberate intention which helps to slowly, almost imperceptibly, ratchet up the narrative tension. Readers may be lulled by a sense of not much happening but in fact this is not the case. There is an inexorable march to the stunning conclusion. Well worth the time spent between its covers, this book will get under your skin and into your head until you have finally turned that last page.

Thanks to Leyane at William Morrow for sending me a copy of the book to review.


  1. I'm so glad your first sentence told me about the title and the cover since I was just about to click 'delete' and go to the next e-mail.

    Instead, I've just added this to my 'books to read' list. It sounds really good!

  2. I agree that the cover and title suggest something light, but since I've read several Gutcheon books, I wasn't worried.

    And the book definitely does get under one's skin and lingers long afterward.

    The true mark of a good book.

    Thanks for sharing!


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