The Scenic Route

Bin­nie Kirshenbaum

  • Review
By – December 20, 2011

This rich­ly tex­tured and won­der­ful­ly engross­ing nov­el tells the sto­ry of Sylvia Lands­man, who at age forty-two decides to leave her love­less, job­less life in New York and trav­el abroad. In Paris, Sylvia meets Hen­ry, a charm­ing South­ern gen­tle­man. The two soon find them­selves tour­ing the con­ti­nent as a cou­ple, Sylvia spend­ing her sev­er­ance pack­age, Hen­ry his wife’s mon­ey. As their trip unfolds, Sylvia nar­rates a broad tapes­try of enchant­i­ng sto­ries: tales that span from clas­sic love sto­ries to por­traits of her father’s life, before and after her mother’s death. One char­ac­ter who keeps enter­ing Sylvia’s sto­ries is her eccen­tric best friend, Ruby, who even­tu­al­ly becomes a deep source of guilt for the narrator.

Kir­shen­baum impres­sive­ly weaves these sto­ries and trav­els togeth­er with Sylvia’s play­ful yet sub­tly poignant voice. The nov­el daz­zles with picaresque sto­ry­telling and por­traits of Euro­pean land­scapes and scenes. The sen­so­ry delights, occa­sion­al frus­tra­tions, and per­sis­tent soul-search­ing of inter­con­ti­nen­tal trav­el are omnipresent here. Kir­shen­baum not only takes the read­er on a wind­ing tour of Europe, but also on a tour of the psy­cho­log­i­cal map of fam­i­ly, fate, friend­ship, and romance. Kir­shen­baum nav­i­gates both paths grace­ful­ly, unpack­ing the many lay­ers of Sylvia’s per­son­al his­to­ry through­out the journey. 

Phil Sandick is a grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son. He has taught cours­es in lit­er­a­ture, com­po­si­tion, and cre­ative writ­ing since 2006. Phil is cur­rent­ly study­ing rhetoric and com­po­si­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na-Chapel Hill.

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