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Evenings at Five: A Novel and Five New…

Evenings at Five: A Novel and Five New Stories (Ballantine Reader's… (edition 2004)

by Gail Godwin

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791152,477 (3.88)3
Title:Evenings at Five: A Novel and Five New Stories (Ballantine Reader's Circle)
Authors:Gail Godwin
Info:Ballantine Books (2004), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library

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Evenings at Five by Gail Godwin



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Evenings at Five
by Gail Godwin
Ballantine Books, 2003
ISBN 0-345-46102-9 (hardcover), 114 p.

Review date: October 2015

All things considered, I don't read a lot of contemporary mainstream or literary fiction, so Gail Godwin's Evenings at Five (2003) wouldn't have been one of my first choices, except that I needed a short, quick read to entertain me while I worked out on the treadmill, and I was specifically seeking out novellas at the local library. They didn't have many, but the ones I found were good, Evenings at Five among them.

The basic premise is a simple one: the main character, Christina, is a writer, whose composer husband, Rudy, dies, and now, after decades together, she has to adjust to life without him. Over a series of ten chapters, plus a ‘coda’, her story is told in a stream-of-consciousness-style series of memories and snippets from the present. We learn of her and Rudy's past, how they met, how their love and life together developed, and of their habits—especially their daily ritual of sitting together for drinks at five p.m., whence the title of the book. We feel their love, and we feel Christina's devastation, her sadness and her anger in her responses to her husband's death.

As the book's descriptions states, it “is a grief sonata for solo instrument transposed into words.” Structurally speaking, Godwin does an excellent job of interweaving the various motifs throughout each movement of this short, 18,000-word piece. It really does read like a sonata and is thus a fitting tribute to the deceased composer, Rudy. Or, rather, Robert—for it is to the composer Robert Starer, the author's long-time romantic partner and artistic collaborator, to whom the book is dedicated, and it's no secret that the book is thinly-veiled semi-autobiography.

The writing is emotional without ever approaching melodrama, and the prose is in a way poetic, yet always realistic with a sense of detail (Godwin uses brand names, gives precise times, and draws attention to objects or situations that many would overlook or take for granted). It truly is a written sonata, and like a sonata, it is emotionally intense while one's attention is on it, and a bit of the melody stays with the reader afterward, but it's no symphony to leave one emotionally charged for very long afterward. But, that's all right. It's short, fairly satisfying, and it can be returned to again and again when one feels in the mood for it. It's a beautifully crafted story of love lost, and I wouldn't have the author change a word. I give it a mere three stars simply because I would have preferred a bit more emotional intensity in places—but I'm the kind of person who prefers Romanticism to Realism, or at least prefers a nice blend of the two.

In fact, my only real complaint is about Frances Halsband's illustrations, which permeate the book. They're simple line drawings, the kind of thing that accompanies a short story in a literary magazine, and they're frankly boring—not just in subject matter (‘Rudy's chair’, ‘Rudy's phone and electric keyboard’, ‘Rudy's chair again’, etc.) but in execution. Halsband is an architect, though, not an artist, and she can be forgiven for producing work reminiscent of worktable sketches; the publisher, however, could have exercised better judgement. (I get the sense of emptiness she was conveying here, and I think it's a good idea; I just feel that a different style or technique would have conveyed it better.) Anyhow, they're more distracting than detracting, though, and so they don't much affect the rating of the book, or the overall enjoyment of reading it. I found Godwin's Evenings at Five an excellent accompaniment to my afternoon exercise, and I'd recommend it to others both for brief, emotional, literary stimulation and as a good example of the novella form.



3 stars: It was good. Technical, conventional, and other errors are rare or nonexistent, and the work stands out among others of its kind. I would be likely to recommend the work to others. Equivalent to a 'B', or above average, grade. ( )
  tokidokizenzen | Oct 26, 2015 |
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Robert Starer
Vienna, Austria, January 8, 1924—
Woodstock, New York, April 22, 2001
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Five o'clock sharp.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345461037, Paperback)

Every evening at five o’clock, Christina and Rudy began the ritual commonly known as Happy Hour, sharing drinks along with a love of language and music (she is an author, he a composer, after all), a delight in intense conversation, a fascination with popes, and nearly thirty years of life together. Now, seven months after Rudy’s unexpected death, Christina reflects on their vibrant bond—with all its quirks, habits, and unguarded moments—as well as her passionate sorrow and her attempts to reposition herself and her new place in the very real world they shared.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:04 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"Every evening at five o'clock, Christina and Rudy stopped work and began the ritual commonly known as Happy Hour. Rudy mixed Christina's drink with loving precision, the cavalier slosh of Bombay Sapphire over ice shards, before settling across from her in his Stickley chair with his glass of Scotch. They shared a love of language and music (she is an author, he a composer, after all), a delight in intense conversation, a fascination with popes, and nearly thirty years of life together." "What did I think, that we had forever? muses Christina, seven months after Rudy's unexpected death. While coming to terms with her loss, with the space that Rudy once inhabited, Christina reflects on their vibrant bond - with all its quirks, habits, and unguarded moments - as well as her passionate sorrow and her attempts to reposition herself and her new place in the very real world they shared."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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