Published: April 2013
What They Say: In the summer of 1957, Frances and Bernard meet at an artists’ colony. She finds him faintly ridiculous, but talented. He sees her as aloof, but intriguing. Afterward, he writes her a letter. Soon they are immersed in the kind of fast, deep friendship that can take over—and change the course of—our lives.
From points afar, they find their way to New York and, for a few whirling years, each other. The city is a wonderland for young people with dreams: cramped West Village kitchens, rowdy cocktail parties stocked with the sharp-witted and glamorous, taxis that can take you anywhere at all, long talks along the Hudson River as the lights of the Empire State Building blink on above.
Inspired by the lives of Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell, Frances and Bernard imagines, through new characters with charms entirely their own, what else might have happened. It explores the limits of faith, passion, sanity, what it means to be a true friend, and the nature of acceptable sacrifice. In the grandness of the fall, can we love another person so completely that we lose ourselves? How much should we give up for those we love? How do we honor the gifts our loved ones bring and still keep true to our dreams?
In witness to all the wonder of kindred spirits and bittersweet romance, Frances and Bernard is a tribute to the power of friendship and the people who help us discover who we are.
What Elaine Says: A novel, in letter form, that follows the life of two fictitious writers (inspired by the lives of Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell), their love affair with each other and with God.
Having read Marilynne Robinson's spectacular epistolary novel, "Gilead" last year, I'm afraid I found the religious discussion in this a little flimsy. And while I'm aware that comparing a Pulitzer Prize winning author, Robinson, with a debut novelist, Bauer, is deeply unfair, I'm afraid it was there in my mind. Moments of theology that could have led to an interesting discussion were touched upon but the novels length (and love story) prevented them from being examined fully.
The main love story however was very engaging. Bernard, a poet and Frances an aspiring writer, meet at an artists colony. Drawn to her talent Bernard begins a correspondence with Frances that will last through their lifetime. Through, faith and art they form a love that will either support them or break them.
Touching, and intriguing, I enjoyed the novel and would probably read more from Bauer.
Please note this was an advance review copy
Elaine's Rating: 7/10
"I can say only this very artless, sweet-hearted thing, which is that you are velvet-skinned and freckled, and I will not be able to sleep tonight because of it."