Serendipity by Louise Shaffer
I normally try to write and publish my reviews in the order in which I have read the books. In this case, I’m making an exception. I have been somewhat in a reading lull – reading casually, not voraciously like normal. Serendipity changed that. Once I got into this novel, I didn’t want to put it down. When I finished it, I almost immediately wanted to pick up my next novel at quarter to one in the morning. It is now quarter after 1 and I had to start this review. Needless to say, this novel was an energizing read for me.
Serendipity tells the story of four generations of Italian women, each one of them disenchanted with their lives and distant from their mothers. The novel begins with Carrie Manning, the daughter of Rose Manning, a NYC icon renowned for her philanthropy. Rose has just passed away, but her presence is no less present. Carrie can’t bare to let Rose down in death any more than she could in life. Rose was all about her charity work, living in a cramped 5th floor walk up apartment in a questionable neighborhood so that the fortune and royalties left by Bobby Manning could go into the homeless shelter run by the local archdiocese. Carrie grew up feeling like a fraud. She wanted more for her own life than giving it and all potential luxuries up because she was more blessed than other children. It’s not that Carrie was entirely selfish. What she really want is what Rose could have given her for free – her smile, her warmth, a desire to be close to her. Instead, Carrie had to go to strangers to put the pieces of her mother’s life together along with those of her grandmother Lu and great-grandmother Mifalda.
What made this novel was the women. They were all charming in their flaws. There were so very human. There was a scene, a thought, or a feeling associated with each of these women that felt just a little (sometimes a little too much) like me. This was especially true with Carrie. I know very well what it is like to grow up with a good Catholic mother when you are not a good girl (and neither Carrie nor I are that bad really). My mother is a wonderful, loving woman. I am blessed to call her Mom. She is in my eyes the stereotypical good Catholic girl. I’ve always tried to get some dirt on her from her siblings and close friends. Those dust bunnies are pretty darn microscopic. The most I ever got was that she and a friend used to argue over who had the meanest mother. This gives me nothing to work with. I am a pleaser by nature and she is the last person in the world I want to disappoint. I am 37 and live 700 miles away, but that doesn’t matter. I didn’t need a Broadway background to understand how Carrie internalized and magnified her own faults when they were held up against her selfless and seemingly perfect mother.
I truly enjoyed Serendipity. I enjoyed the way that Carrie’s visits with those who knew and loved her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were intertwined with Mifalda, Lu, and Rose’s stories. Despite the fact that those telling Carrie these stories could not have known the private details and inner thoughts of those women, it didn’t bother me in the least that the story was told in this way. It was almost as if that woman was reaching out to the reader to explain what was never shared between mother and daughter. The ending brought a tear to my eye and made me glad to be both a mother and a daughter. Louise Shaffer weaved an interesting history through the relationships of three mothers and four daughters. While Serendipity may not change the world, it kept me up until nearly 2am to finish the review. That puts it in a category all to itself.
I snagged this novel after requesting it through LibraryThings’ Early Reviewers program, so I’m adding it to my Just for the Love of It Reading Challenge.
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