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The Maze at Windermere

por Gregory Blake Smith

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25212106,695 (3.85)12
"A richly layered novel of love, ambition, and duplicity, set against the storied seascape of Newport, Rhode Island A reckless wager between a tennis pro with a fading career and a drunken party guest--the stakes are an antique motorcycle and an heiress's diamond necklace--launches a narrative odyssey that braids together three centuries of aspiration and adversity. A witty and urbane bachelor of the Gilded Age embarks on a high-risk scheme to marry into a fortune; a young writer soon to make his mark turns himself to his craft with harrowing social consequences; an aristocratic British officer during the American Revolution carries on a courtship that leads to murder; and, in Newport's earliest days, a tragically orphaned Quaker girl imagines a way forward for herself and the slave girl she has inherited. In The Maze at Windermere Gregory Blake Smith weaves these intersecting worlds into a brilliant tapestry, charting a voyage across the ages into the maze of the human heart"--… (mais)
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Mostrando 1-5 de 12 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
Newport, Rhode Island: the location. The stories thread themselves through time, weaving present day with the the Revolutionary War and the age of profligate gold (as Twain would have it), presenting a finished tapestry to a satisfied reader. ( )
  ben_r47 | Feb 22, 2024 |
Literary readers should love this one, but it definitely requires some "work" on the part of the reader. It took me an unusually long time to finish, and I think that was mostly because of the format. I would describe the structure as five novellas set in different time periods, but in the same location, Newport, and told in rotating chapters (2011, 1896, 1863, 1778, and 1692). Until the final section where suddenly all of the time periods are compressed into short paragraphs as each story reaches its denouement. To me, the author was trying to echo the feel of a maze. At first, it takes you a while to get oriented, and you slowly wend your way. But as you reach the center, you are moving more quickly and decisively and with shorter movements. The novellas are not really inter-related, but there are elements (physical, philosophical, thematic and literary) that echo through them. It's really quite a clever novel and one that would hold up well to multiple readings.

All that being said, the quality of the stories varied widely for me, and that's why it really didn't rise to the 5 star level. Each story is one of love and obsession. The 2011 story was, for me, by far the most interesting. It tells the tale of a handsome tennis pro and a love triangle of sorts where the two women involved are both very interesting in their circumstance and character. I loved this story and found myself wanting to return to it over and over (but had to wait patiently through the other four chapters each time). The story set in 1896 was a close second and focused on a gay man in society who is attempting to marry a rich widow against the wishes of her father. The third novella is historical fiction about the life of Henry James whose work crops up repeatedly in other parts of the book. The fourth and fifth stories struck me as much more forced than the first two . . .as if the author had a structure in mind, and the final two tales were necessary elements, but they didn't arise organically.

But nonetheless, I really enjoyed intellectual challenges put forth in the book as they added to the stories and weren't contrived and truly added to the reading experience as opposed to leaving the reader exhausted, or worse, bored. ( )
  Anita_Pomerantz | Mar 23, 2023 |
Sex, Lies, Deceit, and Romance

The Maze at Windermere will enrapture many, particularly those who thrive on the idea of love in its various manifestation (of which you’ll find several here), and it will lure and then disappoint some, especially those requiring a tidy, if not, happy ending, not to mention a clearer unity of stories.

The Maze at Windermere traces the passions of five pairings from different periods: current, 1890s (Gilded Age), 1860s (Civil War), 1700s (Revolutionary War), and late 1600s (early Colonial). Each takes place on the same ground, Newport, RI, and the surrounding country. Each pairing explores a different twist on love, all fraught with challenge and steep difficulty. What unites the five tales related in short alternating sequences, a device that certainly puts you in eager anticipation for the next installment but that also irritates by forcing you to regularly refocus your attention, is the locale, portrayed through the years, and the various expressions of longing and love:

Sandy Alison plays and teaches tennis, though now the end of his career as a player looms large before him. The big athletic type favored with easy charm, he has worked his way though many women on the circuit he travels, including Newport. In Newport, he has just finished an affair with Margo Du Pont (or, rather, she with him), resident of Windermere, and begun one with Aisha, a jewelry artist from Brooklyn who resides at the house in summer. Aisha serves as a companion and protector of Alice Du Pont, bright, eccentric, depressive and at times suicidal, afflicted with cerebral palsy, though the effects are modest. Ultimately, through machinations left to the reader, Alice and Sandy strike up a friendship leading to more, and a huge complication. Alice exhibits a peculiar quirkiness that makes her different and appealing, especially to what Sandy has been accustomed to. Novelist Henry James novels get bandied about frequently.

Mr. Franklin Drexel, of limited means and secretly gay (the only way you could be in the Gilded Age), has been hiding his gray, wondering how much longer he can play the young, gay (older usage) bonhomie to the monied set. Then an opportunity presents itself under the tutelage of the grand dame Mrs. Belmont: courtship and eventual marriage of a widow with children. This, however, is an opportunity fraught with problems that make for quite a confrontation. Yes, Franklin is a cad, but one caught in a terrible vice. You might feel a bit of sympathy for the poor fellow.

Not only does Alice Du Pont invoke Henry James often, he appears as the featured character in the Civil War sequences. James was well known for his asexuality and here Smith explores James’ struggle with the real and art. James wants to become a novelist. He thinks among the best ways to accomplish his desire is to closely observe people and record their actions in his notebook. He does so with a young woman he likes and admires greatly, Alice Taylor. However, these are the 1860s and women have little freedom and in this society love making can amount to an over abundance of smiles. Henry gets a comeuppance he doesn’t see coming.

In 1778, the British find themselves billeted in Newport and Major Ballard needs diversion. He finds it when he espies Judith Da Silva, daughter of man who knows how to prosper in war or peace. The Da Silvas are originally Portuguese from a line of Jews who have suffered through Inquisition, survived, and prospered. Ballard develops an unnatural desire for Miss Da Silva and an equally unnatural hatred of Mr. Da Silva. His lust for Miss Da Silva devolves into a disturbing plan of personal gratification and revenge. This particular tale does stretch credulity a bit in its denouement.

And before all these, there is Prudence Selwyn, a fifteen-year-old Quaker, whose mother died recently, and whose father is presumed lost at sea, caring for a toddler sister. In the 1690s, a woman had extremely limited oppositions outside of marriage for survival. A young woman in Prudence’s situation had fewer still, with one of those few marriage to an older, established man. Prudence can’t bear the thought of it. With ingenuity and knowledge, she devises a plan to extricate herself from her situation and marry a man her age she can love.

So, there are the stories and how they relate to each other. If they appeal to you, you will enjoy the novel. However, even if you like a bit more closure than you may find in The Maze at Windermere, you will take solace in the author’s skillful prose that mimics each era beautifully, making the tales palpably atmospheric. It’s one of the best features of the novel.
( )
  write-review | Nov 4, 2021 |
The main narrative of The Maze at Windermere follows a mostly washed-up tennis pro, Sandy Alison, through a summer teaching and living among the very wealthy in Newport, RI. Gregory Blake Smith twists the straightforward novel by weaving four other time periods (1896, 1863, 1778 and 1692) and inhabitants of Newport into the novel. I’m not going to lie--it’s a lot to keep track of. Smith employs a variety of formats to keep the sections distinct--mostly by dated diary and journal entries, and he does a good job of fleshing out each character and time period. Enough so that even as his clearly defined chapters dissolve into briefer montages in the last section of the book the distinction and clarity remain. A number of contrivances that mesh the characters together--the house, names, Henry James--can be seen as clever or annoying...I liked it. The Maze at Windermere is a historically interesting novel that examines love, art, social class and outsiders during five time periods in Newport, RI. ( )
  Hccpsk | Jan 29, 2020 |
Recommended to me by a woman I hold in high esteem in D.C. Historical fiction mashed up with contemporary women's lit type book. 5 side-by-side storylines all taking place in Newport RI. Of course their themes come together in the end if their time periods can not. Written by a Carlton professor which pulled me toward the book. I've thought about it a lot since finishing which is always a measure of a good read for me. Universal truths, anguished hearts, independent spirits. Recommended to the right reader. K
  splinfo | Sep 5, 2019 |
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"A richly layered novel of love, ambition, and duplicity, set against the storied seascape of Newport, Rhode Island A reckless wager between a tennis pro with a fading career and a drunken party guest--the stakes are an antique motorcycle and an heiress's diamond necklace--launches a narrative odyssey that braids together three centuries of aspiration and adversity. A witty and urbane bachelor of the Gilded Age embarks on a high-risk scheme to marry into a fortune; a young writer soon to make his mark turns himself to his craft with harrowing social consequences; an aristocratic British officer during the American Revolution carries on a courtship that leads to murder; and, in Newport's earliest days, a tragically orphaned Quaker girl imagines a way forward for herself and the slave girl she has inherited. In The Maze at Windermere Gregory Blake Smith weaves these intersecting worlds into a brilliant tapestry, charting a voyage across the ages into the maze of the human heart"--

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