Cynthia Hoskin’s “Fall’s Bright Flame”

September 23rd, 2017  |  Published in September 2017

Disclaimer:  Cynthia Hoskin is a good friend of mine.   I read the novel “Fall Tides” this summer, in galley form, and wrote a review for it, unsolicited, at that time.

The novel’s now been published, and Ms. Hoskin has used my review as the Prologue to the novel.   I saw no reason ,however, not to post the review, as written.

Cynthia Hoskin has written a very sophisticated novel, her first, titled “Fall’s Bright Flame”. Realizing that almost no fiction has been written by or about women of her generation, who matured in the fifties, her work continues in one of American literature’s most fertile territories: the American suburb, with forays in and out of various Eastern seaboard cities: Boston, New York, Baltimore in particular.  These are cities where the old tradition of Social Registers still held sway and had a lot of clout, and Hoskin’s narrator and most of her characters come from that world.  And Hoskin is particularly astute in her understanding of the mores and language of said world, as she not only understands it, but she suggests its strengths and weaknesses throughout her novel.

While reading “Fall’s Bright Flame”, a very fast-paced novel zipping back and forth between the cities mentioned, I saw echoes of John O’Hara, John Cheever, John Updike, those superb chroniclers of upper middle/upper class suburban American life; the roots of their writing, too, harkens back to both Henry James and Edith Wharton, and I see more Wharton in Hoskin’s writing than I see James, and that’s a compliment, as Hoskin’s female characters manifest the strong willed characters of the women from that background (it teeters between upper middle and upper class). They marry older men, who are “experienced” – that’s assumed – and the marriages are like mergers: each partner to these marriages is quite independent; manners are civilized and conversation snappy and clever; children are assumed, go to the boarding schools which their parents generally attended, marry well, and keep their childhood friendships throughout their lives.

Friendship between women is a strong point in Hoskin’s novel; her women characters speak in a kind of assumed code, and their closeness is lovely to observe.  In Hoskin’s world, people have dinner parties all the time–it’s what friends do–and homosexual men, for example, are easily integrated into their world, questions left unasked; civility reigns.

Hoskin’s narrator, whom we meet just after her mother’s death, is an independent-minded woman, presented in the novel as a fiction writer of increasing renown, with a most ambivalent relationship with her sister, who works in the film industry: one of the strong points in the novel is this sisterly relationship, maddening yet still close; they know one another almost too well, but defer to one’s another’s strong and weak points. And neither really sheds a tear for their mother’s demise; they come to suburban Boston to clean up her affairs, sell her house, move on (wills are of more interest here than the mother’s character, but I found that kind of detail very true to life). The narrator, too, will meet a male neighbor of her mother’s, mysterious and vexing, and we know that these two will eventually come together, whether temporarily or permanently is difficult to know throughout the novel, which thus keeps the plot moving along quickly.  Hoskin also introduces a subplot, so the readers don’t know who this man is, where he comes from and the like; I found this subplot diverting and amusing, in its way, as it also involves wills and money and unknown (but protected) identities.

And as these two develop their affair, we are privy to some serious growth and internal dialogues of the narrator, which are strong and well delineated. And the narrator’s closeness to her first husband and to her children is very credibly done, too. Hoskin knows her restaurants and her hotels and what her characters eat, drink, and discuss.  One assumes that the women in the novel have spent a lot of time doing volunteer work, mainly in the arts, as their parents would have assumed same from their children.  Fascinatingly, as the affair between the narrator and her stranger grows, the moral code by which the narrator lives neither cracks nor breaks, and that’s quite a feat on Hoskin’s part. And people in this novel find themselves equally at ease in London as they do in The East Coast of America, and Hoskin knows her territory well. “Fall’s Bright Flame” is an excellent read; it’s extremely well written, and it speaks to a world mostly gone, now, and “Fall’s Bright Flame” lets us ruminate about what we may have lost as well as where we were headed. It has some real depth to its characters. I couldn’t put it down; it’s a serious novel about manners, of course, and it works on many levels, which Hoskin intends.

– Daniel Brown, Editor, Art Curator and Literary Critic

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