Who but thou?

Under the Wide and Starry Sky (NetGalley)
Nancy Horan

Take thou the writing. Thine it is. For who/Burnished the sword, blew on the drowsy coal/Held still the target higher … who but thou? 

I loved Nancy Horan’s first novel, Loving Frank–I got a glimpse into the life and loves of a woman I

knew nothing about, Frank Lloyd Wright’s murdered lover Mameh Borthwick. It was an engaging novel that kept me turning the page. Horan’s latest novel about Fanny Stevenson was not nearly as captivating.

Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne Stevenson was author Robert Louis Stevenson’s American wife. Ten years his junior, Fanny was separated from her husband when the two met in Europe where Fanny and her children were in exile of sorts–Fanny had spirited the children away, finally leaving her philandering husband so that Fanny and daughter Belle could attend a school of drawing and painting in Paris. Louis and Fanny meet after she suffers a personal tragedy and Louis is smitten, despite the fact that she was ten years his senior and married with children. In fact, when Fanny returned home to take up again with (or put off for good) her husband, Louis followed her to San Francisco, traveling at great cost to his delicate health.

We travel with the Stevensons to Scotland and London and Samoa–and I waited for the magic to begin. I had listened to Nancy Horan’s interview on the Diane Rehm show in January and was intrigued with their life. But for some reason, the book didn’t measure up to the interview or Loving Frank. The characters were well-researched, the plot didn’t stray from the facts of Stevenson’s life, but it just fell flat. I am somewhat ashamed to admit (avid reader that I am!) I skimmed the second half of the book after diligently sticking with the first. I skipped to the last few chapters of their life in Samoa and was there when Louis died; the last chapter which covered Fanny’s life after Louis’ death interested me more than many of the earlier chapters.

That said, do I want to re-read some of Robert Louis Stevenson’s work? Yes. Will I think of his life and loves while I read him? Yes. So maybe Horan’s work was successful after all.

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