Nora mentions Lucy Jordan moments at least three times and I had to Google it to find out that Lucy is a housewife who goes mad in a Shel Silverstein (indeedy yes, Silverstein) poem made popular as a Marianne Faithfull song. Nora gets that and is angry. She is angry that no one "gets" her. She does not worry overmuch about not getting others. Nora does not connect with her brother.Nora thinks her elderly aunt Baby is smelly. Nora talks about the world as a Fun House and trap. Nora is her own world and a very vanilla world it is. What does she do to adjust the status quo? She falls in love with with one of her Third Grade students--no, no, there is no perversion there--Reza Shahid, the exotic son of an Italian artist and a Christian Palestinian from Lebanon. Next she falls in love with Reza's mother Sirena, she of the aspirin flowers. Note that name, Sirena. It is one of the few instances in which Messud is clearly heavy handed. If this were not complicated enough, she also falls in love with Skandar, Reza's father, whose lifework is the study of ethics. Logically, an ethicist has to have sex with a slightly deranged New England school teacher. So he does. Once. Very angry making this is.
What happens as a result is, in my opinion, much ado about nothing.There are references to Lebanon and its endless wars,but there are no references to what really goes on in New England during the Year of the Shahids. A sad place it must be for Nora to think that Italians are exotic. There is exotic Paris, there is quite a bit about how artists become darling of moneyed the buyers and there is a spectacular betrayal at the very end of the story. Believe, that betrayal makes Nora madder than a hornet's nest. Me? I think it is all very cool and very elegant and that the writing itself is superb, but the story has the static feel of flowers of the aspirin variety. Nevertheless, I would like to read more Messud because I have the feeling that this book is not the measure of her powers.