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Friday, June 29, 2018

The Maze at Windemere (2018) by Gregory Blake Smith


Book Review
The Maze at Windemere (2018)
 by Gregory Blake Smith

  Gregory Blake Smith is no stranger to the literary fiction scene.  He has four novels under his belt, a couple collections of short stories and a handful of literary prizes.  Unlike his other books, The Maze at Windermere has a major publisher behind it (Viking) and it also has a mixture of high concept flair and careful character development that make it a potential major literary prize winner.

  What he doesn't have is a major best seller.  The Maze at Windermere is an ambitious attempt to bridge the gap between literary and popular fiction, cutting across four centuries of the lives of the denizens of Newport, Rhode Island.   Smith uses a handful of narrators: A young woman living in the late 17th century, left orphaned when her father fails to return from a trip to the west indies;  and English military officer who falls in love with a local Jewess, a gay man about town from the 19th century, seeking the hand of wealthy heiress; the young Henry James, who falls in love(?) with the daughter of a local factory owner and a present-day tennis pro, who is the lead narrator- who falls in love with Alice DuPont, the (fictional) heiress to the plastics fortune, who suffers both from cerebal palsy and bi-polar disorder.

 Each of the plots deals with a different aspect of love and it's difficulties.  The different stories are unified by the character of Newport itself, which gets its own narrator via the excitable ramblings of present day Alice DuPont.   The other narrative threads are more or less effective- the Henry James thread often reminded me of The Master by Colm Toibin.   The other major characters are thoughtfully drawn, Smith has both a clear grasp of period convention and the expectations of modern audiences, and he manages to satisfy both.

  Six months after release, it doesn't appear that The Maze at Winderwere is a major commercial hit- leaving Viking hoping for a Pulitzer or National Book Award Nomination. I'm not sure I see that coming, but I am wrong all the time.

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