Another Book Club Road Trip.

Not too long ago, some of the ladies of book club and I piled into Amanda’s petite black car and hit the road.  Our destination on a sunny November Saturday was the small town of Quechee, home of the Vermont Farmer’s Diner, which was featured in our previous month’s pick of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  In that book, Kingsolver and her family visit the original Vermont Farmer’s Diner in Barre; it had since closed and reopened adjacent to a strip mall in Quechee.

the-dining-carI know I was a bit surprised to see the diner in what I can only describe as a tourist trap of a strip mall — one of the stores featured t-shirts emblazoned with moose and endless brown plastic jugs of maple syrup.  I was even more stunned when we entered the diner; a small portion of the seats were in an old-fashioned train boxcar, but the rest were in a sparsely decorated and cavernous room that reminded me of an elementary school auditorium.

Food-wise, the diner was fine, but certainly not worth driving almost three hours for.  Granted, the diner did deliver on its promise of relying upon local vendors whenever possible; the beef on my burger ($7.00) came from PT Farms, my tomato from Long Wind Farms and my cheese, of course, was from Cabot.  My incredibly thick milkshake, the highlight of my meal, was made of Strafford organic milk and was well worth its steep price of $6.00, especially considering the sheer quantity of shake — it filled two Mason jars, and was so think I could stand my straw straight up in its center.

Over our meal, we discussed this month’s book, Zorba the Greek… and how we all hated it.  To be fair, only one of us actually finished it — but the rest of us couldn’t even get past page thirty or so.  While our group is very flexible when it comes to completing our chosen book, a situation like this is most certainly unusual.  So if you do have a hankering to read Nikos Kazantzakis‘s novel, consider yourself warned.  The same, I’m sorry to say, could be said about the diner.

Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier.

falling-angelsThis is a novel I picked up by chance, though I’ve read and enjoyed Tracy Chevalier‘s work before.  Not too long ago, I was in the bargain basement of Harvard Book Store with my friend Jamel, looking for my book group’s most recent pick.  I thought (mistakenly, I should add) that Zorba the Greek would be an easy find, but instead I happened upon Falling Angels.  I wasn’t overly impressed with the cover art but still I idly flipped to the first page; after reading a few paragraphs, I knew that I would be immediately have to climb the stairs and make my way to the cash register.  I needed to know how the story would end, particularly after a beginning like this:

I woke this morning with a stranger in my bed.  The head of blond hair beside my was decidedly not my husband’s.  I did not know whether to be shocked or amused.

Well, I thought, here’s a novel way to begin the new century.

Then I remembered the evening before and felt rather sick.  I wondered where Richard was in this huge house and how we were meant to swap back.  Everyone else here — the man beside me included — was far more experienced in the mechanics of these matters than I.  Than we.  Much as Richard bluffed last night, he was just as much in the dark as me, though he was more keen.  Much more keen.  It made me wonder.

Do you understand what I mean?  How captivating, how scandalous, how thrilling — especially when put into context.  Falling Angels is set in Edwardian London (1901-1910), an era also known as the Belle Époque, a time for the European elite to explore all things beautiful and new.

The novel’s plot encircles an array of characters all bond together by birth, position, politics and desire.  Chevalier tackles these themes by telling the story through a succession of first-person narratives.  The perspectives range from beautiful and bored Kitty Coleman, who opens the novel with her incendiary words; her maid Jenny, whose bad judgement and insolence the plot hinges upon; snooty and smug Lavinia Waterhouse, obsessed with propriety at even a young age; and cheeky Simon Field, a grave digger’s son.

While Falling Angels is gripping as a piece of literature, it is Chevalier’s skillful characterizations that is so very seductive.  She effortlessly moves from individual to individual, telling each one’s tales in a voice that is as distinct and clear as her own.  And that is an covetable gift.