Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Pg. 99: Lore Segal's "Shakespeare's Kitchen"

The current entry at the Page 99 Test: Lore Segal's Shakespeare's Kitchen.

About the book, from the publisher:

The thirteen interrelated stories of Shakespeare’s Kitchen concern the universal longing for friendship, how we achieve new intimacies for ourselves, and how slowly, inexplicably, we lose them. Featuring six never-before-published pieces, Lore Segal’s stunning new book evolved from seven short stories that originally appeared in the New Yorker (including the O. Henry Prize–winning “The Reverse Bug”).

Ilka Weisz has accepted a teaching position at the Concordance Institute, a think tank in Connecticut, reluctantly leaving her New York circle of friends. After the comedy of her struggle to meet new people, Ilka comes to embrace, and be embraced by, a new set of acquaintances, including the institute’s director, Leslie Shakespeare, and his wife, Eliza. Through a series of memorable dinner parties, picnics, and Sunday brunches, Segal evokes the subtle drama and humor of the outsider’s loneliness, the comfort and charm of familiar companionship, the bliss of being in love, and the strangeness of our behavior in the face of other people’s deaths.

Among the praise for Shakespeare's Kitchen:

Lore Segal is ... one of those rare people who combine art, eccentricity, honesty, and wisdom and who, by a change of tone, an altered inflection, produce such enchanting effects that the [reader] is swept along.
--Chicago Tribune

What began as seven interrelated short stories published in The New Yorker (including the O'Henry Prize-winning "The Reverse Bug") is now a full-length collection of thirteen -- the first major work of fiction in 20 years from the acclaimed author of Her First American. Filled with all the pomp and depressed glory of a modern-day Great Gatsby, each installment delivers an entertaining glimpse into the dysfunctional lives of a group of hoity-toity Connecticut think tank intellectuals as they philosophize over wine and cheese, fall in and out of love and go about their daily lives with reckless abandon. Most of the action takes place (or is retold, properly discussed and drunkenly digested) in the kitchen of the institute's director, Leslie Shakespeare, while Leslie's wife alternatively entertains and lambastes their friends. Although the plot centers on nothing more than everyday comings and goings, Segal gives readers a peek into the sausage factory of daily routine, in which humdrum-but-necessary minutia belie the intrigue and angst stirred up in her self-absorbed characters' internal monologues. When stacked together, these vignettes are hilarious and telling. Segal exhibits a rare insight into the human character that is at once humbling and shamelessly enjoyable to behold.
--Publishers Weekly, starred review

Segal is an enchanting storyteller. An old hand at dodging sentimentality — who else could have transformed her childhood expulsion from Hitler's Europe into such a dry and delightful tale, as she did in "Other People's Houses"? — she compels our attention without ever asking for it. Perhaps that is her secret: She never does ask; she maintains a dignified distance from the reader.... In any case, her oddly telescoping paragraphs are impossible to resist. We read them, we read them again, and we are reminded of Eliza's crabby comment halfway through the book: "My idea of hell is a child telling you the plot of a story." Nobody who has ever undergone such an ordeal will disagree. But my idea of heaven is a brilliant adult doing the very same thing, and that's what we get in "Shakespeare's Kitchen."
--James Marcus, Los Angeles Times
Winner of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award, the Harold U. Ribalow Prize, and the Carl Sandburg Award for Fiction, Lore Segal is the author of the novels Other People’s Houses and Her First American (both available from The New Press), and several books for children.

The Page 99 Test: Lore Segal's Shakespeare's Kitchen.

--Marshal Zeringue