Beth Gutcheon’s new novel Gossip is in many ways similar to the rarefied New York society it describes – somewhat restrained, very proper, and yet capable of drama and unexpected developments. It revolves around a trio of women who meet at boarding school in the 50s – Loviah, a scholarship student who never really fit in; Dinah, another scholarship student who still manages to (mostly) infiltrate the upper crust NY scene she so covets; and Avis, a true blue-blooded WASP who is comfortably entrenched in that upper crust world. Loviah befriends both women, and stays close with them throughout her life. While she is always an outsider among the upper class (she owns a tony clothing boutique and hence always plays a subservient role to her customers), her friendships with Dinah and Avis are genuine and close, and she benefits from their including her in many of their activities, vacations, etc.
Dinah and Avis become inextricably linked through their children, and Gossip tracks Loviah’s relationships with both women and their families over the course of many years. Single and childless, and involved with a married man for over 40 years, Loviah lives vicariously through her friends’ existences. The book is full of detail about the benefits she attended, the clothes people wore, the beach houses she was invited to, and the rich New Yorkers she came in contact with. All of this detail is somewhat tedious at times, but Loviah’s restrained and unobtrusive narration makes the plot move along despite what some might find extraneous weight.
Ultimately, the book is about loyalty and friendship, and how to maintain both in the face of what can be difficult odds. The title, Gossip, refers to the origins of the word “gossip”, which means conversation among godparents to the same child. Dinah and Avis are opposites, with Loviah their most common denominator. Gutcheon throws in a curveball at the end that both wakes up the story and brings the tension between Loviah’s two friends into the sharpest relief. I had been wondering where Gutcheon was going with the story and how she’d wrap it up, and I definitely got my answer.
As I noted above, Gutcheon’s writing is eloquent and polished, like her narrator. I am finding that a lot of books I’ve read recently are dealing with 9/11, and Gossip contains perhaps the best depiction of life in Manhattan on that tragic day of any I’ve read to date. Some passages in the book are heartbreaking and moving, and those stood out to me among the myriad descriptions of clothing and other less compelling topics.
I listened to Gossip entirely on audio. The narration was perfect and I did enjoy listening to it, although I found my mind wandering occasionally when there was too much description.
I recommend Gossip if this type of subject sounds appealing. It’s a satisfying read and I am grateful that I was given the opportunity by HarperAudio.