Frances and Bernard

Frances and Bernard

by By:  Carlene Bauer

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Frances and Bernard meet in the summer of 1957. Afterward, he writes her a letter. Soon they are immersed in the kind of fast, deep friendship that can change the course of our lives.

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, parties stocked with the sharp-witted and glamorous, taxis that can take you anywhere at all, long talks along the Hudson 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. In the grandness of the fall, can we love another person so completely that we lose 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.

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  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547858258

  • ISBN-10: 0547858256

  • Pages: 208

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 02/05/2013

  • Carton Quantity: 1

Carlene Bauer
Author

Carlene Bauer

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.
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  • reviews

    "A story of conversion, shattered love and the loss of faith, recalling 20th century masters like Graham Greene and Walker Percy…Frances is refreshingly down-to-earth in her spiritual convictions…Bauer gets right… the shifting balance of literary ambition and emotional need, Yeats’s old choice between perfection of the life or of the work. Bauer is herself a distinctive stylist who can write about Simone Weil or Kierkegaard with wit and charm. A fresh voice thinking seriously about what a religiously committed life might have felt like and perhaps, in our own far-from tranquil period, might feel like again." - New York Times Book Review

     

    "Graceful and gem-like…. Through Bauer’s sharp, witty, and elegant prose, [Frances and Bernard] become vibrant and original characters…. These are not your typical lovebirds, but writers with fierce and fine intellects.… We are reminded of the power of correspondence — the flirtation of it, the nervousness, the delicious uncertainty of writing bold things and then waiting days, weeks, or even months for a reply. After finishing this sweet and somber novel, we might sigh and think, 'It's a shame we don’t write love letters anymore' — before stopping for a moment to marvel at the subtlety of what Bauer has wrought out of history and a generous imagination, and being thankful that someone still is."--Boston Globe

     

    "Frances and Bernard portrays two writers drawn into a friendship sparked by mutual admiration. They elegantly convey their reflections, encouragements and chastisements in letters written over a span of 11 years…Bauer captures the style and language of the period with gleeful dexterity.…Bauer is masterful in whipping up the frenzy of Bernard’s unstable certainty that she is the answer to his Olympian quest…Bauer, who has published a memoir about her evangelical childhood and subsequent conversion to Catholicism, writes with authority and gusto about issues of faith. The prose here is exquisite, winding between narrative momentum and lofty introspection. And she employs the epistolary form nimbly, providing an intimate, uncluttered space for her characters to develop. The most unexpected pleasure of this period love story is spending time in the company of people who are engaged in the edifying pursuit of living as Christians — a good reminder that, regardless of the current upheaval in the church, the big questions are still worth asking. -- The Washington Post

     

    "With wonderful writing, elegant, pithy and witty, the author reeled me in from the very beginning. Two young writers in another, more genteel place and time, a burgeoning friendship, the possibility of romance? It struck me as the perfect confection...[It] wrestle[s] with big questions in gorgeous and sharply hewn language. There is much to admire in this smart, ambitious, debut novel." - Pittsburgh post-Gazette

     

    "A surprising and insightful novel… blooming with richness and intelligence…. The two [main characters] share and joust and tease and advise and explore and analyze and admire …. The careful trajectory of their intertwining and deepening relation becomes "a beautiful thing" — these two voices in Bauer’s fine rendering sing counterpoint that is exhilarating, and heartbreaking…. Their relation stirs into the love, for each, of a lifetime. A marvelous tracing of these lives." - Buffalo News

     

    "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. Bauer is phenomenally fluent in the voices and sensibilities she so intently emulates, composing dueling letters of breathtaking wit, seduction, and heartbreak. Spanning a stormy decade, Bauer’s piercing novel is dynamic in structure, dramatic in emotion and event, and fierce in its inquiry into religion, love, and art."—Booklist

     

    "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

     

    "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."--Elinor Lipman

    "Short but satisfying...well written, engrossing, and succeeds in making Frances and Bernard’s shared interest in religion believable and their relationship funny, sweet, and sad. A lovely surprise."--Publishers Weekly (starred)

     

    "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."--Library Journal

     

    "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

     

    "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

     

    "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

     

    "A truly 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!" --
  • excerpts

    October 6, 1958

    Bernard — 

       I hope your writing is going well.

       I hope you do not mind me interrupting your solitude with a letter, but I turned my novel in today and wanted to tell someone who would understand that particular achievement. I am thoroughly sick of it, but I’m not sure that the people who now have it will be able to do anything to make it better. Now that the initial surprise and excitement of having a book contract have worn off, fear of the ineptness of my new editor has set in. She has recently used the word irregardless in a letter to my agent.

       The henhouse has turned gothic. Some of the sorority girls are now bitter. “You’ll do anything for a steak,” I heard one of them say last week at dinner, “but then that’s not all they want you to eat, the steak.” So there is the suggestion that they are now choking the men down along with the steak; that both delicacies, steak and sex, have become repulsive. Then there is Regina. She is studying to be an actress and is working as a secretary. She’s from Brooklyn. She has three sweaters and three skirts, she told me, which she bought to combine in six different ways. And a good black wool dress, she said, for when she has to go somewhere nice. She offered to loan me the dress once when I mentioned I had to go to a dinner for work, but I’m not keen on treating my closet like a lending library, so I said that I would prefer not to wear something that had a Dewey decimal number sewn into it. She did not laugh. It seems that several girls have gone in on that dress, but Regina paid the most, so it hangs in her closet. One night at dinner she leaned over to me and said: “Do you see that girl?” It was a girl across the room; she was talking and eating, nothing out of the ordinary. “She got in trouble,” Regina said, “for using too many condiments at dinner.” Then she says: “That girl and I moved here at the same time. We used to eat together, but she found those girls” — I looked at those girls, and they did seem a little more shampooed than Regina, who is bohemian manqué, like Marjorie Morningstar, only Italian, Catholic, and with an acoustic guitar — “and then that was the end of that.” Regina kept looking at the girls. I kept eating. “You see the girls here turn,” she said. “You see them fall prey to New York. Their hair is different, the clothes get showier, they’re talking all high class where they used to talk regular, and suddenly they’re not sitting with you at dinner. They’re going out with men.” Abruptly Regina went sour: “You just see them turn.” I decided not to sit with Regina anymore, and now I have the uneasy feeling that she is going to find some other girl to turn to, then locate me in the dining room, point me out, and tell this new girl that I hoard dinner rolls and silverware. Or she may come after me with one of the dull dinner knives, scratched out of its luster by endless runs in the dishwasher, and serrate me to death in my sleep.

       Then there is a woman reading her way to Christian Scientism. Her name is Sarah. From Ohio. She is overweight. I’ve gone to visit her room and seen a few family photographs, so I know she was once slender. You can see how she might have been a pretty chorus-girl type — sweetheart face, big eyes, blond Veronica Lake waves, rosebud lips. Her eyes are the eyes of a girl who knows she believes lies but can’t do anything other than believe them. She moved in ten years ago — she wanted to sing in musicals — and she has never left. She never did really sing onstage — “Now I never will, I guess,” she says, referring to her weight — but she helps run the kitchen in return for room and board. If anyone is hoarding dinner rolls, it’s Sarah. She says she thanks the Lord for making this room available to her. She says she feels now that the Lord meant for her to sit quietly and figure out his mysteries through her reading, and she wouldn’t exchange that opportunity for anything. Her room is full of books by people who have radio hours. It’s the gospel according to Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, and Aimee Semple McPherson — American dynamism gilded into a platform for individual redemption. It’s religion as detergent. I thank God I was born Catholic. At least our fairy tales involve eyes being put out and women being stretched out on racks — suggesting there is no evasion of pain and suffering. That there is no redemption without suffering, and that suffering is sometimes the point.

       Where was I? Forgive me. Sarah haunts me. I think I see Ann in her. Ann isn’t in the sorority girls; I was mistaken. Ann is in Sarah. They have the same eyes. Right before I left home, Ann and I had a fight. Did I tell you about this when you came? Earlier last year, my sister met a man at a dance. He was, she said, a men’s-clothing buyer for Wanamaker’s, and after that dance they spent a few evenings together. She fell for him. He was an Italian, handsome and traveled, and of course he dressed very, very well. He came for dinner. He was not overly ingratiating. He had manners. He asked my father about his job. He asked me what Iowa was like — he had family out there farming and couldn’t imagine what it would be like to live in a place like that. But I watched him with Ann and there was an air of the waiting room about him — I got the sense that she was not a specific person to him, just someone pretty he had started chatting with while waiting to be called in for his annual. As someone who often cannot bear to be around even those people she loves, I will never understand this kind of personality — the just-dropping-by-out-of-boredom. I didn’t think it was manners that kept him from looking at her with desire or with the kind of adoration that is subdued because it is in public but still obvious nevertheless. I don’t know anything about romance, but I have my ideas about how people should show that they prefer each other over the vast horde. My father thought he seemed like enough of a gentleman, and to that I said yes, enough to come into a middle-class house and share a meal with strangers, but not so much that he’s going to carry Ann out of here on some steed the way she wants. My father said nothing, and for a moment I regretted saying what I’d said. My father reveres romance — he thinks he and my mother had a great one — and he wants that for Ann the way he wants success for me. The problem is that Ann suspects she’s beautiful but doesn’t truly know it. If she did, she could be dumb and scheming like Undine Spragg and we wouldn’t worry about her.

       Some weeks later, this gentleman got a job in Baltimore. She wrote him. After a few letters, though, he stopped writing back. But she kept it up. She wrote a letter a month for six months. When I saw her on the sixth letter — yes, I kept count — I couldn’t take it anymore. “Stop it!” I said to Ann as she sat in the kitchen writing another one. “Ann, he is never going to write back! If he’s not dead, you are dead to him!”

       She stood up. She looked at me in a way I had never seen her look at me — as if I were dead to her. Then she walked out to the living room, took her coat, and went for a walk. We didn’t talk...

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547858258

  • ISBN-10: 0547858256

  • Pages: 208

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 02/05/2013

  • Carton Quantity: 1

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