Monday, April 10, 2017

By Any Name by Cynthia Voigt

By Any Name. Cynthia Voigt. Diversion Publishing. April 2017. 296 pp. ISBN #: 9781682303092.

Rida is an orphan who meets Spencer while she is serving in the USO during WWII and he is serving as a naval officer.  They meet at an Officer’s Club Dance.  Rida loves to dance and have a good time.  She is an orphan from California and has no idea of her origins but doesn’t really care. Actually she considers her unknown status as a mandate to speak her mind at all times and to defy what other see as necessary conventions of behavior.  Spencer has one thing on his mind, to divert his constant worry about being killed in this nasty, crazy war.  Rida totally diverts his paranoia and rivets his attention on her startling nature.  This works well and promises for some audacious moments, especially when she informs him she is engaged to four other men.  She admits they all know about each other and don’t mind at all.  Spencer thinks, as a young man of the gentle, upper class Boston aristocracy, that he must make Rida realize the error and danger of her ways.  Of course, he fails miserably and decides the only way to protect her is to marry her.  Theirs is a love affair that truly understands and accepts each other’s nature, his of academic propensities and hers of practical truth and planning for the future.

This then is a unique novel of two characters who complement each other perfectly but who are hardly understood by his Hargrove relatives.  The story is told from the narrative voice of Rida or Mumma (as she is called by all) who supports her husband through his obtaining a Ph.D. in classics and starts her own realty business.  But the gripping essence of Mumma’s story is the way she shocks Spencer’s family and the acquaintances of her daughters with her refreshing truthfulness and unwillingness to conform to dress and social conversation. 

Numerous funny scenes fill these pages in which Mumma shocks all and yet also can perfectly read people’s false veneer to who they are truly are.  In one particular scene, she intuits that a certain teacher is taking advantage of her daughter and sets about eliminating that person before damage can be done. 

Even the end of the novel is mesmerizing as we see how Mumma handles her husband’s life and death and then plans the immediate days after her own death.  The reader knows that her personality will be the subject of days and days of thoughts and conversations among her daughters as they try to figure out just who she was and remain just as befuddled and mournful of her dynamic, astonishing presence!

Cynthia Voigt’s foray into contemporary adult fiction is delightfully well-crafted.  The plot is simple but the characterization is the central focus that defies any stereotypical pattern.  Nicely done, indeed, Cynthia Voigt!!!

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