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Fast start, fast finish by Stephen…

Fast start, fast finish

by Stephen Birmingham

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1967. A wealthy Westchester family experiences all the pitfalls of snooty society. They spend way beyond their means trying to keep up with the Joneses. Any unconventionality is seen as something to ridicule. Their neighbors become their enemies because they have to hide their real lives from them or face ostracization in the community, possible loss of jobs, the dreaded exclusion from the country club.

As a result of the culture of secrecy instilled in them, they fail to communicate even with each other. The wife's psychiatrist knows more about her than her family ever will. Bad decisions are made all around because there is no one to trust to ask for help. The lack of any intimacy (besides sex) between husband and wife inevitably leads to adultery, and an illegal abortion with rather dire consequences.

In the end when most of the truth about how they've been living comes out, they seem to decide to keep up the facade of their marriage. The ending is a bit vague, but they seem so unhappy that I was routing for a divorce. They seem, however, to somehow derive so much comfort just from the fact of their marriage and family, even as screwed up as it is, that they won't let it go.

There's the usual drinking and smoking of the time period. One character is a movie star. There's also an artist and a lot of home decorator/real estate kind of stuff. There's a lot of tennis and one extremely well-written dialogue where the ladies are playing bridge while gossiping. The whole book is very well-written actually.

The cover blurb cites homosexuality, but they basically just mock the few homosexual characters who remain almost entirely offstage.

The one African-American character is a maid constructed in such a stereotypically racist way that I had to conclude the author's only experience was taken straight from Hattie McDaniel's performance in "Gone With The Wind."

What you're basically getting here is deeply psychologically-impaired rich white folks having marital difficulties, problems with money and with their kids getting into trouble. ( )
  kylekatz | Feb 23, 2011 |
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Fast Start, Fast Finish is a novel of suspense, art, marriage, family, and the hollowness of suburbia, from one the country's most important documentarians of the well-to-do. Charlie Lord is handsome, smart and devastatingly sophisticated. Why does his life keep coming to a blazing halt?… (more)

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