November 2002

Jessa Crispin

fiction

Letty Fox: Her Luck By Christina Stead

If Christina Stead's Letty Fox: Her Luck had not been published by New York Review Books, I probably would have never bought it. The synopsis on the back makes it sound like your typical chick lit, only published in 1948. But I trust NYRB so I did buy it, I did read it, and I realized something very quickly. This is the potential that chick lit has and is constantly squandered by the bestselling authors.

The book has very little plot to speak of, unless you count Letty's bizarre quest to get married from age eight to the end of the book. The draw of the book is the characters and how they bounce off one another. It opens with Letty in her mid-20's coming out of an affair with a married man (she lets us know this is a common occurrence), and then it spins you back to Letty at age eight in the 1920's. The rest of the book moves chronologically to reach the point from which it started. Beginning with the end lets you quickly absorb why this woman who declares she wants nothing more than to be married repeatedly sabotages her only goal.

There is only one sane relationship in this entire book. Her Uncle Philip marries one woman, arranges abortions for his mistresses, and finds other woman while they're recovering. Her father moves to London from New York to be with Die Konkubine as his mother calls her. Letty's mother drags her and her sister Jacky across Europe while trying to get pregnant to "save" her marriage. Her Aunt Phyllis sleeps her way around the world trying to find a rich husband. Her Grandmother Morgan tells the women in the book to marry into a good alimony. It's the kind of environment that leads Jacky to sigh romantically, "I hope when I grow up I can entrap men."

The one sane relationship I mentioned was Letty's father and Die Konkubine, Persia. Persia is the opposite of Letty's mother. She's sophisticated, independent, and has no intention to get married or have children. She becomes an influence in Letty's life, but when coupled with her mother's "marriage or death" attitude, Letty becomes a very confused young woman.

Letty is a fascinating character. She manages to embody so many contradictions without ever stretching believability. Marriage may be her top priority, and she may have a job writing ad copy for dress shops, but no other chick lit heroine spends her evenings writing a novel about Robespierre. No behavior seems out of character, except her obsession with Luke Adams. With her desire to marry well and be a woman of social stature, it seems strange that she would fall so hard and unexpectedly to a man with a missing front tooth who lives in a shack.

Letty Fox is, in truth, probably about 75 pages too long, and the ending drags. Overall, however, it's an engrossing book that never bored me terribly. I feel I can recommend it without any disclaimers.

And once again, God bless New York Review Books and their solidly good line of books.

Letty Fox: Her Luck by Christina Stead
New York Review Books
ISBN: 0940322706
592 pages