three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
52-May-June-2011
By: 
Louise Dean
user_rating: 
0

A-The Old RomanticIn her fourth novel, British novelist Louise Dean pens another bittersweet family saga and satire. Reviewed: Becoming Strangers (4 of 5 Stars Selection May/June 2006).

The Story: When Ken Goodyew, a prickly, 80-something man facing what he believes to be his impending death, starts to settle his affairs, he invites his estranged son Nick, a divorce attorney now living the life of a country gentleman, and his younger, ingratiating son, Dave, to a dinner reunion. Soon, Nick--who left his crude working-class family at age 18 for a try at higher society--finds himself drawn back into old family quarrels as Ken solicits his help in divorcing his second wife, June, and finding his first wife, Pearl. Although Nick resists his father's entreaties despite Nick's girlfriend's involvement, his immersion back into his dysfunctional family highlights the importance of their familial bonds--flawed but lasting.
Riverhead. 338 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9781594487798

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"There's not much in the way of plot in The Old Romantic, but Dean's razor-sharp observations, coupled with her very real affection for her characters, make the pages fly." Tina Jordan

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"If the notion of a domestic comedy about an older divorced couple gradually finding a spark of reconnection brings to mind the glowing image of Meryl Streep being seduced by her roguish remarried ex, Alec Baldwin, please adjust your picture. ... Although class markers are a recurrent theme, The Old Romantic is essentially a highly entertaining, vivid evocation of love and marriage in its various forms." Sylvia Brownrigg

Onion AV Club 3 of 5 Stars
"As some of Ken's adventures lean toward caricature, including an ill-fated road trip to Wales, his son's weighing of the measure of his responsibility grounds The Old Romantic in reality. ... Nor does the reluctant good son escape Dean's scrutiny: In gleefully puncturing the upper-class padding with which Nick surrounds himself, The Old Romantic doesn't spare any of the Goodyew clan or their loved ones from barbs, but finds ground on which to gather them without sentimental defenses." Ellen Wernecke

Minneapolis Star Tribune 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Characters rake themselves through self-revelations, and the prose leaps with a fervor for the present moment. Unfortunately, the novel conflates with such moments, robbing them of power, and one begins to feel that Dean isn't really developing her characters so much as choreographing them through forced revelations, irrelevant side stories and fruitless, incredulous dialogue." Scott Muskin

Critical Summary

Dean asks the big questions about love, commitment, and the changing boundaries among family members in this exploration of marriage and family. While critics generally agreed that The Old Romantic is light on plot, they nonetheless described it as a barbed social satire on class, love, and marriage in its various forms. Dean also offers many revelatory moments, though the Minneapolis Star Tribune thought that her insights, many as they are, lacked an emotional core. Despite that criticism, reviewers generally praised this story of family dysfunction, reunion, and, ultimately, of the quest for happiness and fulfillment.

Previously Reviewed

Becoming Strangers | Louise Dean: 4 of 5 Stars May/June 2006. When two couples cross paths at a Caribbean resort, the passions, comforts, guilt, indiscretions, and losses in both marriages start to surface.