In “Fin & Lady” Cathleen Schine, author of the bestselling “The Three Weissmanns of Westport,” again shows what it means to be a family. In carefully crafted prose, Schine captures the love between a brother and sister – Fin and Lady – during Greenwich Village’s heyday of the ‘60s. The story is touching, warm and funny. Think “Auntie Mame.”
Orphaned at age 11, in a “tragedy of monstrous proportions,” Fin Hadley and his dog Gus are swept away from his Connecticut dairy farm home in a turquoise convertible Karmann Ghia by Lady, his glamorous older half-sister:
“So. Of course you’ll want a nice bath and then a nap.,”
“No thank you.” . . .
“No? Really? That’s what I do, you know, when tragedy strikes. A nice stiff drink, a soak in the tub, a nap. . .”
A stiff drink. That’s a good one, Fin thought.
“I’m eleven,” he said.
“Ah,” she said. “Too old for a nap, too young for a drink. Is that what you’re saying?”
The pair takes up residence in a “groovy” brownstone on Charles Street, in a house that Lady says “will be our new life.” Mabel, their African-American maid, tends to them both. In the coming days, Lady devotes herself to Fin – whose name comes from the final screen of the French film, “Les Enfants du Paradis” – showing him the sights and wonders of New York City:
. . . they went to count the stars in Grand Central Station and admire the Kodak Colorama taking up one wall. . . . Or was that a different day? Was that the day they went to Chinatown and saw the dead ducks hanging upside down? Or maybe the day they had tea at the Palm Court and listened to the musicians playing waltzes? Or contemplated the swords and armor and mounted knights at the Metropolitan? The days glided so carelessly, one into the next, each so surprising and new and yet, exactly because they were so surprising and new, so similar.
Lady is beautiful and charming and has three suitors. One is Tyler, who she jilted at the alter when she was 18 and Fin was just 5. Fin dislikes Tyler. There is Jack, a clubby jock, who also is lacking in Fin’s eyes. And there is Hungarian Biffi, who Fin hopes will capture Lady’s heart. Fin is enlisted to help Lady find a husband by age 25 – a duty that is repeatedly extended.
In keeping with the times, Lady sends Fin to a progressive school:
“So you would never, ever have to do science homework on a beautiful spring afternoon.” Her voice and the dog’s voice rang together like ugly, jarring bells. “So you could do the things that are really important. . . So you could be fucking free.”
Fin grows up free against the backdrop of the big events of the 1960s – the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the whole hippie scene of the Village. Yet even as Lady looks after Fin, he takes care of her.
Lady swans off to Capri, where a teen-aged Fin eventually joins her for an enchanted summer, where Lady falls in love — for real.
There are wonderful supporting characters, from Mabel and the suitors to Lady’s Wellesley friends, the amusingly self-anointed “Bra Trios,” to Fin’s sage friend Phoebe, who dispenses slightly skewed but no less valid wisdom gleaned from her psychotherapist parents.
But most of all, this is a valentine to Lady, from a narrator whose identity remains a surprise up until the end. Fin loves the larger-than-life Lady and readers will, too.
“At the request of the algebra teacher, we’ve given Fin a few tests, and I’m afraid he has developed a psychological block that prevents him from retrieving even the basic mathematical information he has learned.”
“Oh no, not at all,” Lady said. . . . “He hasn’t blocked anything. How could he? He hasn’t learned anything to block.”
“Fin & Lady” is a nostalgic look at a mind-bending era and a clever, touching story of unbreakable family ties. Nostalgic without being mawkish, touching without being saccharine, and funny without being flip, it’s a delightful story that defines the unbreakable bonds of family love.
“Fin & Lady” is available on amazon.com and at your favorite New York bookstores.