The Scenic Route
By Binnie Kirshenbaum
(Harper Perennial, Paperback, 9780060784744, 352pp.)
Publication Date: May 2009
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Divorced, alone, and unexpectedly unemployed, Sylvia Landsman flees to Italy, where she meets Henry, a wistful, married, middle-aged expatriate. Taking off on a grand tour of Europe bankrolled with his wife's money, Henry and Sylvia follow a circuitous route around the continent—as Sylvia entertains Henry with stories of her peculiar family and her damaged friends, of dead ducks and Alma Mahler. Her narrative is a tapestry of remembrances and regrets...and her secret shame: a small, cowardly sin of omission. Yet when the opportunity arises for Sylvia and Henry to do something small but brave, the refrain "if only" returns to haunt her, leaving Sylvia with one more story of love lived and lost.
Binnie Kirshenbaum is the author of An Almost Perfect Moment, On Mermaid Avenue, A Disturbance in One Place, Pure Poetry, Hester Among the Ruins, and History on a Personal Note. She is a professor at Columbia University's School of the Arts, where she is chair of the Graduate Writing Program.
- Why would Sylvia think that it's better to do something foolish than to do nothing at all? What is it about the sin of omission, about passivity, that strikes her as so unforgivable?
“Tremendously readable...miraculously, Kirshenbaum avoids sentimentality.”
-Los Angeles Times
“Spiked with wit, scrubbed free of sentimentality, these tales of love and loss, courage and cowardice, transport us back into the pages of our own lives and our own families ...[The Scenic Route is] a perfect companion for summer.”
-Washington Post: Book World
“It takes skill and assurance to pull off this beguiling narrative-by-digression, a love story-cum-family history-cum-confession of sins, and Kirshenbaum has both in plentiful supply…there are no happy endings here; instead, Kirshenbaum delivers capital-T truths.”
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[A] moving, bittersweet novel.”
“Introspective, mordant and entertaining, The Scenic Route is a road-trip drama that eloquently articulates its characters’ conflicting desires.”
-Time Out New York
“It doesn’t get much more summer than road trips and ill-advised flings, and Kirshenbaum’s great new novel has both, a perfect story told with a huge heart.”
-Publishers Weekly Favorite Reads for the Summer (09)
“Binnie Kirshenbaum’s witty, insightful European road novel turns the midlife-crisis-romance genre on its head.”
-The Daily Beast
“Binnie Kirshenbaum is a fearlessly unsentimental storyteller, a gifted comic writer and a thoughtful archeologist of family life. The Scenic Route is warm, wise, and very difficult to put down.”
“I’m much impressed with Binnie Kirshenbaum’s THE SCENIC ROUTE, an idiosyncratic and totally winning ‘romance,’ in which sentiment and cynicism are poised in a most virtuoso performance.”
-Joyce Carol Oates
“The Scenic Route is a witty and poignant, and also an extremely interesting and acute, novel. Ms. Kirshenbaum mines a very rich seam that’s entirely her own. This is first-rate writing by a novelist who gracefully defies classification.”
-—Richard Ford, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Independence Day
“Binnie Kirshenbaum is a tremendous talent. Her novels are sexy, intelligent, complex, and provocative; they press against your heart the way old lovers do.”
“Absurdly underrated Kirshenbaum is at her darkly comic and boldly encompassing best here, diverting us with hairpin-turn humor while slipping us hard truths about memory and inheritance, betrayal and guilt, and the inevitable end of the road.”
“Life, storytelling, and memory all take us down long and winding roads. Binnie Kirshenbaum deftly explores the intersections of the three in ‘The Scenic Route,’ her bittersweet fifth novel about lost love and friendship.”