Frances and Bernard
By Carlene Bauer
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780547858241, 208pp.)
Publication Date: February 5, 2013
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Loosely inspired by Robert Lowell and Flannery O'Connor, this absorbing, charming novel brings us into mid-century New York and the lives and letters of two writers-- their intense friendship, their discussions of writing and art and faith, and their bittersweet romance
Carlene Bauer is the author of the memoir Not That Kind of Girl, described as "soulful" by Walter Kirn in Elle and "approaching the greatness of Cantwell" in the New York Post. She has written for the likes of n +1, Slate, Salon, and the New York Times.
"There are so many reasons to love this perfect novel, not least because before our eyes Bauer quietly reveals the lovers to each other, and to themselves, while she explores all of the important problems of faith, work, art, marriage, passion, and how best to lead the life that you think you're meant to live. Frances and Bernard is smart and clear and deep and beautiful. I worship it."
—Jane Hamilton, author of Disobedience, A Map of the World, and The Book of Ruth
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"[A] debut novel of stunning subtlety, grace, and depth...Bauer’s use of the epistolary form is masterful as she forges a passionately spiritual, creative, and romantic dialogue between characters based on two literary giants famous for their brilliant letters, Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell. Though she changes the particulars of O’Connor’s life, Bauer retains the great writer’s rigor, humor, faith, penetrating insights, and wisdom. In Bernard, she embraces Lowell’s protean powers, tempestuousness, and manic depression. They begin as friends sharing their thoughts and feelings about the church and writing and gradually, cautiously on Frances’ part, venture into love. Frances can be lacerating; Bernard is extravagant...Bauer is phenomenally fluent in the voices and sensibilities she so intently emulates, composing dueling letters of breathtaking wit, seduction, and heartbreak...Bauer’s piercing novel is dynamic in structure, dramatic in emotion and event, and fierce in its inquiry into religion, love, and art."
—Booklist (starred review)
"A series of erudite letters, some of which are exchanged between the two rich and somewhat eccentric protagonists, and some are written by these characters to others. This remarkable method of storytelling provides snapshots of the events that shape the story."
“I'll never stop raving about FRANCES AND BERNARD. I loved, admired and devoured it; didn't want it to end. What is better than a good novel in letters? A great one. Carlene Bauer has written a book that is dear, brilliant, and unforgettable.”
"I have rarely encountered historical fiction that seems to spring so authentically from the period in which it's set. The two correspondents in Carlene Bauer's book, along with their families and friends, come wittily alive in the letters they exchange, and those letters end up accumulating a terrific narrative and emotional force. Bauer recaptures a time in which people took one another more seriously, an era when they still inclined toward epistolary explorations instead of self-promoting tweets. Frances and Bernard is one of the best first novels I've read in years."
—Thomas Mallon, author of Watergate and Henry and Clara
“Dazzling and gorgeously written, Frances and Bernard features a pair of brilliant, complicated writers who present themselves to each other in letters that form the most exciting epistolary novel in recent memory. A slim book, it still seems to say all of the important things about friendship, faith, love, the literary life, and especially the costs of living as an artist while still inhabiting the real world. It’s a marvel.”
—Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen’s Pier and Songs Without Words
“A wholly original, very moving novel about how sometimes the deepest relationships in our lives are also the most impossible. The letters between Frances and Bernard—which begin as witty, sometimes wary, and full of unusual confidences about love and spiritual matters—explode with passion on the page. My eyes filled with tears. It is wonderful to read something so rare and true. What a rich writer and two unforgettable lovers! I was sorry to reach its end.”
—Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude and Camille: A Novel of Monet and The Physician of London
"I had ten pages left as the bus pulled into my home station, and I wanted to murder the driver for rousting me from my seat. Instead of heading home, I stood in the parking lot and finished the book right then and there. I did not merely love Frances and Bernard; I worried myself sick over them. And the prose! So delectable you could eat it for dessert."
—Monica Wood, author of When We Were the Kennedys and Any Bitter Thing