In the High Peaks

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Alena by Rachel Pastan: A Departure from Rebecca

I purchased Alena by Rachel Pastan in late January or February primarily for its setting on a place beloved to me, Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Not all of Alena takes place there--there's the Midwestern art museum setting, New York City, and please don't forget Venice! But most of the action takes place in and around an extraordinary art museum on the dunes overlooking the ocean near Wellfleet and Truro.

And as I may have told you, and as you may have heard, Pastan models the broad outline of Alena on Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca. The relationships among the main characters resemble those in Rebecca, but the young female narrator is nowhere near as naïve or as inexperienced as the one in Rebecca. And, to mark this novel as a departure, is the universe of contemporary art. Pastan's characters have a lot to say about it, and it is enough to hoist Alena off the Rebecca climbing wall.

I was dubious about reading a novel even remotely based on Rebecca, but I must emphasize that I enjoyed the ride. The so-called naïf is extremely observant and wise enough to detect what's happening around her. I liked her a great deal and sympathized with her. Bernard is her mentor, her Laurence Olivier character, but because he's a homosexual, their intimate friendship is based on a deep fondness and a mutual love of art, which is so refreshing. You may wish to read the Washington Post review.

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