three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
43-Nov-Dec-2009
user_rating: 
0

A-Good Things I Wish YouA. Manette Ansay is the author of six novels, including Midnight Champagne, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, and Vinegar Hill, an Oprah Book Club Selection. Ansay currently teaches in the MFA program at the University of Miami.

The Story: Jeanette Hochmann of Miami is a 42-year-old single parent writing a book about Clara Wieck Schumann, the wife of 19th-century composer Robert Schumann and a gifted pianist in her own right. What fascinates Jeanette, and has stumped historians for years, is Clara’s inexplicable attachment to her husband’s handsome young protégé, Johannes Brahms. Were the pair simply friends, as they claimed? Or was the Schumanns’ marriage devastated by a secret love affair? And is it ever truly possible for a man and a woman to maintain a meaningful, but platonic, relationship? With the help of a charismatic doctor, Jeanette delves further into Clara’s past and discovers unsettling parallels to her own troubled life.
Harper. 272 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9780061239960

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"[A]s the parallels between the two relationships multiply, the novel catches fire. Though Ansay has bobbled a few things in this book—minor characters and children in particular, about whom she ordinarily writes so well, don’t get enough attention—she is a gifted and sure-handed storyteller." Dwight Allen

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Photos, scraps from letters and diaries, make this book a fascination. … Clara, the breadwinner for an immense family, is heroic, a genius of mythic stature, who nearly two centuries later continues to inspire and intrigue." Mandy Twaddell

South FL Sun-Sentinel 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The music in A. Manette Ansay’s latest novel, Good Things I Wish You, plays in a minor key, but readers who persist in listening for it will be rewarded with a subtle meditation on the price a creative woman pays for romantic love." Chauncey Mabe

St. Petersburg Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"If Ansay wanted readers to be disquieted by her importation of Clara’s fortitude, she has succeeded. The superimposition of the documentary biography makes the emotional walls between the reader and Ansay’s characters both fragile and impenetrable—an effect that only emphasizes the dilemma of nonchoice masquerading as choice." Anis Shivani

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"The novel does not unfold slowly. Instead, it is told abruptly, in short, energetic bursts that get directly to the point, but take away from the pleasures of a slower-paced examination of love." Michele Filgate

Critical Summary

Critics were intrigued by Ansay’s premise—a comparison of two superficially connected women and their relationships—but most found Clara’s story to be far more interesting than that of her contemporary counterpart. Jeanette, with her modern-day minutiae and angst, paled inevitably beside the charismatic and mysterious Clara. Additionally, Ansay’s inclusion of historical photographs, sketches, and diary excerpts rendered Clara all the more fascinating. Only the South Florida Sun-Sentinel felt that the present-day characters were compelling enough to have flourished within their own novel. Overall, critics considered Ansay’s seventh book a worthy read for patient readers as well as a thoughtful meditation on love, longing, and the viability of male and female friendships.