Rose Gowen's Reviews > A Servant's Tale

A Servant's Tale by Paula Fox
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Dec 19, 09

Read in December, 2009

Disappointing. At first it reminded me of Oscar Wao (because the characters are from a Caribbean island, and are poor in the cold Northeast, and suffer from being unable to go home again), and I was prepared to say it was the superior novel-- but the differences are greater than the similarities, so it's not a useful comparison.

(Although they do have in common the problem of anticipating the end prematurely-- Fox does it by winding down too soon, while Diaz brings in a parade to celebrate the end of his way way too soon.)

Anyhow, Fox is a good writer and there are some interesting things to think about here: the complicated relationship between servants and their employers-- how much of the servant's self [and body:] does the employer buy when she hands out a paycheck? Do the habits of a poor person-- thrift, doing without, using things until they fall apart-- become a kind of impoverishment of the soul when they are no longer necessary?
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Rose Gowen This book is depressing me. Not so much because of the downbeat story, but it's been looking longingly toward its own last pages for, oh, the last hundred pages? I hate that. Hey, authors, I know you're anxious to get to the end of the book-- don't make the reader feel that way too. It's gotten all tight-lipped and airless. Well, I'm almost done.


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

This may be a little crazy, but recently, I learned that very long-term and beloved clients of mine have to sell their huge house, because of the economic downturn, etc. They are very wealthy, by my standards. The husband has been not unemployed, but underemployed for at least six months, and the wife (who works too) says, "We have to confront the fact that this is the new normal." My Dad and I were talking about this, and I was being all naive about their money: like, why can't they just take their kids out of the school that cost $25k a year a piece - wouldn't that do it, you think? He laughed at me a bit, and then said "You don't understand the requirements of that kind of money. You're welcome, by the way." This sentence:

Do the habits of a poor person-- thrift, doing without, using things until they fall apart-- become a kind of impoverishment of the soul when they are no longer necessary?

makes me think about that, but the other way.


message 3: by Rose (last edited Dec 20, 2009 10:57AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rose Gowen Yeah, I've been made aware of this kind of thing every once in a while. I worked in a frame/art shop for a while when I was in my early twenties, and we had a lot of wealthy clients. At one point I realized there would be something improper about them not having, for instance, a SubZero fridge-- at that income level it would seem very cheap and stingy for them not to buy top of the line luxury products. Or, the other day my friend made a post on Facebook about seeing BMWs in the parking lot at the Goodwill (it's okay for me to shop at the Goodwill, of course-- I drive a used Subaru).

Anyhow, that was one of the more interesting things about this book. The servant marries a journalist, and as he starts to do well, the marriage falls apart because she can't stop acting poor. It embarrasses the husband, but also it's as if she refuses to use more than a teensy corner of the life he's offering her.


message 4: by Jim (new)

Jim "Do the habits of a poor person-- thrift, doing without, using things until they fall apart-- become a kind of impoverishment of the soul when they are no longer necessary?"

What a great question!


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