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The Scenic Route

3.01  ·  Rating Details  ·  531 Ratings  ·  108 Reviews
Divorced, alone, and unexpectedly unemployed, Sylvia Landsman flees to Italy, where she meets Henry, a wistful, married, middle-aged expatriate. Taking off on a grand tour of Europe bankrolled with his wife's money, Henry and Sylvia follow a circuitous route around the continent--as Sylvia entertains Henry with stories of her peculiar family and her damaged friends, of dea ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 1st 2009 by Ecco Press
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,359)
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Aug 12, 2009 Andy rated it liked it
If I didn't know the author personally and respect her work, I don't think there's any way I would browse through a bookstore and pick this one out. For one, the cover looks like a poster for a sugary Jennifer Aniston movie. Strike Two is the first sentence, which is completely melodramatic and inauthentic to the purposes of fiction (it struck me as a sentence that strives very hard to be a great first sentence). I suppose there was no third strike, but two strikes are usually enough for me to p ...more
Jun 30, 2009 Rochelle rated it did not like it
All I could think of while I was reading this book was a) I need to stop getting book recommendations from Oprah Magazine or Real Simple and b) this author really teaches writing at Columbia? I suppose if I was a middle-age woman plodding along in life and going through some sort of crisis or hoping like hell I soon would and therefore my life would start to be interesting -- then I would have liked this book. But, I am not and I wouldn't recommend the book to anyone other than that target demog ...more
Sarah Burns
Jul 02, 2009 Sarah Burns rated it did not like it
I had been told that this book was a european vacation romance. So, I of course thought, "What a fabulous summer read!" Then, I open the book, and nearly the first sentence is something along the lines of "This is the story of Henry and I.....blahblahblah...didn't work out." Bang goes the romance. Strike one.

Then, guess what? Henry's MARRIED! So, let's check into a hotel! "I don't care if he's married, it's vacation, she doesn't come back until September, blah blah blah, because, ya know, it'll
Oct 07, 2010 Angie rated it really liked it
I loved how the format of this novel reflects its overarching theme. The book meanders through time (literally taking "the scenic route," just as the two main characters take the scenic route through Europe). Along the way, pieces of the past are revealed through flashbacks in seemingly random order.

I wanted to LOVE this novel, and I almost did. I found myself rereading sentences over and over again, identifying strongly with certain insights into the human experience. I saved a few lines in my
Nov 03, 2009 Ryann rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book had such a slow start that I almost put it down many times. The last third of the book was much better. The novel definitely takes "the scenic route" in getting to the plot and is very disjointed and frustrating at times. All in all, it's not a bad book but I didn't think it was excellent. It seemed more like a very rough draft written at many different times instead of a cohesive collection of stories interwoven with the main plot.
Jul 28, 2015 Christine rated it liked it
I struggled with this one a bit, especially in the beginning, but once I figured out what it was about, I felt the value of the story told. The Scenic Route isn't a travelogue of beautiful spots in Europe. Its more like a reflection on one's life, questioning choices made or not made and where to go from there. Sylvia tells her story to a man she has met in Europe. They have a wild affair as they criss cross Europe. Not until the end of the story do you get what the story was all about and I lik ...more
Feb 04, 2014 Carlin rated it really liked it
Shelves: on-kindle
This. was one of the $1.99 books I got as a deal of the day from Amazon so I would have a backup book available when I needed it.

This was not a book I could rush through to the end. Doug has been in the hospital following serious spinal surgery and my mind kept leaving the story to play endless games of Solitaire on my Android. Finally finishing it 4 days before his discharge I realize it all came together as a compelling story about love, life and loss. It was a good, not a great, book but one
Oct 23, 2009 S rated it really liked it
Again, another book lent to me by my neighbor and one that I hadn't heard of but am giving 4 stars to which I don't give to many books but this book was just so well written. This is a book narrated by Sylvia, a single, divorced, middle aged woman who when laid off from her job, goes to Europe for an indefinite amount of time and soon after landing in Europe, she meets Henry who is another American but one who has been living an expatriate life in Paris, living off of his extremely wealthy wife. ...more
Ron Charles
Nov 27, 2013 Ron Charles rated it really liked it
Binnie Kirshenbaum's new novel looks like another year in Provence or another romance baked under the Tuscan sun. It begins with a recession fantasy: A middle-age, divorced woman gets laid off but uses her severance money for a trip to Italy. There, as usually happens, she strikes up a conversation with a handsome millionaire at a cafe and spends the rest of the summer driving around Europe with him, staying in the cutest inns and savoring the finest wines. Given this setup, you'd expect the cov ...more
Jun 25, 2009 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’m glad I finished this novel over a lunch break at work; else, I would have had to curl up someplace and bawl for a while. From the very beginning, “The Scenic Route” is about endings.
Sylvia Landsman, fortyish, divorced, childless, having been laid off from a job she didn’t care about, decides to go to Florence. There, she meets Henry, an expatriate whose marriage of convenience provides him with means and opportunity for a life of utter frivolity and leisure. Together, they set off on an aiml
Audacia Ray
Jul 05, 2009 Audacia Ray rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, read-in-2009
I read (or at least, read half of) this book because indie publisher, promoter, and book junkie Richard Nash thought I might like it.

The writing is deceptively simple - so simple and beautiful that you're almost tricked into thinking that it's too simple to be good fiction writing. Almost. The writing is good, and seductive, and just - pretty.

So why couldn't I finish the book? Personal reasons (it's not you, it's me). No, seriously. I like books with rich characters that I can either identify wi
Sep 22, 2009 Lindsay rated it really liked it
Recommended to Lindsay by: NPR
In the current age of recession and double digit unemployment percentages, the catalyst of Sylvia's story rings of the familiar: she loses her job. However, rather than gathering her pennies and unemployment checks like a squirrel preparing for a long winter, she drops everything and runs to Italy. Everything she is running from unfolds elegantly throughout the course of the story, but what she is unexpectedly running toward takes the shape of Henry. An American expat and kept man, Henry rambles ...more
Sep 16, 2009 Stephanie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009, chick-lit
This book was good when I was actually reading it, but I wasn't thinking about it when I wasn't reading it. And at first I wasn't sure if I was going to like the prose style, which is as if someone were speaking rather than writing, but the voice is well spoken, and I didn't mind after the first 50 pages or so.

The three main characters are, of course, flawed, but they aren't bad people. They aren't very interesting, either. Neither is the story of the present. But the narrator, Sylvia, who I tho
Sep 05, 2011 Bookreaderljh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At first I had a hard time following the flow of this story. As the narrator takes "the scenic route" through Europe with Henry (a new love), she also takes him and the reader through different stories of her family and history. As those stories also float between many times and people (a secondary "scenic route") the connection and continuity of the story can be difficult. I found once I just let the stream of consciousness technique just "be", I could enjoy the little side trips as vignettes o ...more
Jan 19, 2016 Megan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. All of the characters were flawed and sad in their own ways, but the author approached each of them and their stories with such humor. I really liked that the characters could pick up and have a whole new story again and again. I tore through this in a weekend and it was very worthwhile. Can't wait to read more from Binnie.
Nov 19, 2009 Julie rated it liked it
The funny thing about _The Scenic Route_ is that I didn't even care about the story of Sylvia and Henry. I was interested in Sylvia's asides, and her trips back in time. She tells us interesting facts not only about her family, but about history as well!

I felt like we never really go to know Henry, he was this mostly faceless character (blurry faced?), but perhaps Kirshenbaum wanted it that way, we could insert our own idea of Henry. We got to know Sylvia of the past, but not really Sylvia of t
Jan 26, 2014 Lurdes rated it it was ok
When I read reviews like "witty and poignant," "a brilliant creation," and "a most virtuoso performance," my interest is peaked and I give a book try. Review fail. Kirshenbaum's protagonist is hardly witty -- in a rambling narrative filled with non sequiturs, she loses her job, travels Europe and takes up with a married man. Snippets from her past, oddities from her luggage, insights from her lover are all jumbled together with no point in sight. Not a trip I want to retake.
Mar 10, 2014 Jb62 rated it it was ok
I didn't mind the story or the style of writing but I found the book somewhat pointless. The main character seemed to just be drifting. I also didn't care for the way the author kept going back and forth time-wise. I wasn't sure if I was reading present day or something had occurred in the character's past.
May 27, 2012 Francisco rated it really liked it
More than for the novel's character development and plot, I find Kirshenbaum's vocabulary and syntax fascinating. In this work, the first of hers I read, she uses too often perhaps the typical techniques to hold the reader's interest. She foreshadows, flashes back in time and hooks with small pieces that whet the reader's appetite, leaving just enough suspense to carry us from chapter to chapter until the end. However, she captured my interest by her usage of the American vernacular; it's her us ...more
Nerys Parry
Oct 23, 2011 Nerys Parry rated it really liked it
I have to admit, I don't always like the New York writers my New York friends send me because they are so, well, New York. But this novel was so well written, so well crafted, I have to recommend it. Right until the end I was learning, loving, opening. While an easy read, it is incredibly complex, and the structure is stunningly well executed. I still think about this book, and the very flawed, very human protagonist who has to endure seeing the worst part of herself played out in technicolour. ...more
Jul 15, 2009 Cheryl rated it liked it
Not what I expected, yet surprisingly engaging. I thought it was going to be a travel/vacation novel, with a little summer romance thrown in. It ended up being a journey through a woman's past, her relationships, and I got better glimpses at the South and other US regions than I did of Europe, where the characters mainly sped through the countryside and kept to their hotel room.

The flashbacks are masterfully woven into the context of the story. There are also intriguing little historical and fac
Aug 27, 2015 Mel rated it liked it
A charming bittersweet novel about gaining self knowledge through travel and story telling. Sylvia and Henry visit Prague, Verdun, Lubijlana and other wonderful European cities. Her relationship with Ruby is also a study in learning to do the hardest things.
Jun 27, 2009 Meghan rated it really liked it
Shelves: female-oriented
I was turned on to this book by the prose. I usually don't like books about middle aged women--they're either sappy or ridiculous. The prose is why I gave it a chance, but the reflection is what kept me reading. No, the plotline isn't anything to write home about, but then, that's not really the point of the book now is it? The point is that the story really is unremarkable, that her life is unremarkable--what's important is what she does with that knowledge. The self reflection, the asides abou ...more
Stacey Palevsky
Aug 25, 2009 Stacey Palevsky rated it really liked it
I was torn between selecting 3 stars and 4 stars but opted for 4 ultimately (rounding up for the real score: 3.5). Anyway, the book is so creative in its storytelling approach (albeit a bit confusing at times) and is probably the most appropriately titled book I've ever read because of this approach. You think hte book is going to be a love story as two characters travel through Europe, but it's actually focused on Sylvia's life as told to Henry as they travel. A scenic route of vacation, and a ...more
Mar 09, 2010 Jamie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: just-for-fun, adult
My old pal Jay Kegley recommended Binnie Kirshenbaum to me waaaaaaaaaay back when I worked at the Dublin library. I remember reading the book and not loving it.

This one piqued my interest though, and though it was different than I expected, some beautiful writing and some philosophical musing made it a good book for the 40-something woman.

What I take out of this book is that we are all a sum of our parts, and some parts mean a lot more to us, and how we are perceived, than they should. People ar
May 01, 2010 Clare rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 21, 2009 Jean rated it liked it
I wasn't so sure about this one until I finished it. It was kind of crazy throughout...jumped back and forth between the present and the past of the main character Sylvia and her family. At first I wasn't even sure if it was taking place in this time frame...
I liked the writing style and the character development. She writes with a sharp and witty style. I can see why she is a Professor of writing at Columbia.
If I think about it I would even say this would be a good book to discuss...lots to ta
Aug 06, 2009 Debbie rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 02, 2009 Betsy rated it really liked it
My expectations for this book were low - I imagined it would be an undistinguishable bit of chick lit summer reading. I'm pleased to be proved wrong. The journey Kirshenbaum creates, both through Europe and through the past, is well-written and engaging. I'm confused by those who refer to her as a comic writer, since I found the book to be heartbreaking in spots and thought-proviking in others, but never what I would call funny. Still, the book is entertaining overall, and i would dare any reade ...more
Ann Woodbury Moore
Apr 05, 2012 Ann Woodbury Moore rated it liked it
After losing her job Sylvia escapes New York for Italy, where she hooks up with handsome, well-off Henry. Off they go, rambling across Europe. They even take the scenic route when it comes to sharing their family histories, skirting inconvenient facts and selecting more picturesque elements. It’s good, droll fun, until painful truths are expressed and the full ramifications of their pasts emerge. Kirshenbaum has been called a “stand-up tragic”; she says, “If we can laugh, we can go on.” Similar ...more
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Binnie Kirshenbaum is the author of two short story collections, six novels, and numerous essays and reviews. Her work is noted for its humorous and ribald prose, which often disguises themes of human loneliness and the yearning for connection. Her heroines are usually urban, very smart, and chastened by lifetimes of unwelcome surprises. Kirshenbaum has been published in German, French, Hebrew, Tu ...more
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“Everyone does deserve a second chance, although we don't often get one, and even when we do get a second chance, we're likely to make the same mistake again. The things we learn later rather than sooner tend to result from harsh lessons, but mostly we learn nothing at all.” 11 likes
“The end of all things--a book, a life, a summer, a marriage, the last bite of cake, the last of innocence lost, a love affair--is always sad, at least a little bit sad, because it is the end, the end of that.” 7 likes
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