Buyer Beware

A woman purchases a house with a history and finds romance in the bargain in a locally set charmer.

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If there were a Fitbit to track Elinor Lipman’s witty observations in this novel, its number would be high—and this in spite of the fact that the life of heroine Faith is full of complexities, not all of them fun.

Working in fundraising at a New England school, Faith buys an affordable house. Why so cheap? The former owner apparently let three husbands tumble down the stairs to their deaths—and also seemingly buried twin babies. Then Faith’s fiancé, Stuart, a New Age narcissist walking across the country, divulges his many new attachments through braggy Facebook posts, revealing limited faithfulness. Meanwhile, Faith’s father has separated from her mother, becoming a starry-eyed artist who fudges the style of Chagall and others to create custom paintings. Faith clashes with his mistress, as well as with her trusty comrade Nick’s ex and the dotty, now-ancient woman who formerly owned her home.

There’s a tone of wry amusement even in Lipman’s portrayal of difficult characters, including Faith herself, who aims bold aggressions toward her many foes. Significantly, though, the character of Nick, Faith’s co-worker, evolving pal and secret admirer, shares a subtle synchronicity with our author. Like Lipman, he’s a sardonic bystander, observant and appealing. Turpentine symbolizes the house’s poisons, but many characters, mysteries and glittering dialogue bring on surprising merriment.

From Page 158: Why did I get the sense that it had been dictated by Tracy? Maybe it was the use of full sentences and its pedantic tone. You’re right, Faith. It wasn’t the easiest lunch for me, either. I need some time to settle in at Tracy’s & to let our conversation at lunch metabolize. I’ll be in touch.
Let our conversation metabolize? What did that mean? I’m the one who will be in touch when I feel like it. I, the professional scribe rarely at a loss for words on paper or screen be they personal or professionally shopworn, did not write back.


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