Join BookBrowse today and get access to free books, our twice monthly digital magazine, and more.

BookBrowse Reviews The Nightingales of Troy by Alice Fulton

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Nightingales of Troy

by Alice Fulton

The Nightingales of Troy by Alice Fulton X
The Nightingales of Troy by Alice Fulton
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jul 2008, 256 pages

    Paperback:
    Jul 2009, 256 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


Set in Troy, New York, this linked collection follows a quirky and resilient family of women throughout the twentieth century.

Fans of Alice Fulton's poetry (bibliography) will find much to admire. A similar lyricism, use of imagery, facts and curiosities abound, from Kitty painting veins on her face with French chalk and Prussian blue* to the scent of vintage perfumes. The details evoke a uniquely feminine culture. But for all the book's poetic merits, it also stands on its own as a selection of stories spanning the lives of seven memorable women.

Tempting as it is to read The Nightingales of Troy as a novel, it isn't meant to be. There is no device like the four sides of the mahjong table in Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, no pivotal family event, memory or point-of-view linking everything together. The stories should not be read with the expectation of perfect symmetry—some of the women's voices are heard only once, while others, like Charlotte, become essential players in several stories. Rather than relying on a single, over-arching narrative, the stories connect through their themes.

Some stories can be read as companion pieces. "Queen Wintergreen" touches on aging, as does "L'Air Du Temps". A nurse in the title story later becomes a patient. One story features birth, another, death. The most powerful of these pairings—"A Shadow Table" and "Centrally Isolated"—hammer one of the more heartbreaking points home: "you could get hurt while serving others."

You'll find a range of women within these domestic spheres. Dorothy, a mid-century woman, aspires to save towards a "Magic Chef range and Eureka vacuum cleaner, a husband and kids". She's a contrast to Mamie, her mother, who is portrayed as being a more level-headed, less conventional woman. In one scene, Mamie, now "FULLY DELIGHTED" (a charming, peculiar euphemism for being dilated) marches towards the bed where Kitty is sleeping. "See here, Clara Lazarus," she says, "It's time to rise from the dead. I need streetcar courtesy. I have to push this baby out." And she does, with every hope that her daughter will lead a different life.

This combination of frailty and steeliness, of service and independence, sainthood and aplomb, appears throughout the book. The differences between the more subdued women and their more take-charge counterparts provide rich material for social and psychological inquiries.

The expected, if familiar, outcome would have been to portray women earlier in the century as repressed, and the most modern, educated woman of them all, Ruth, as the liberated go-getter, but these women do not fit simple preconceptions. Ruth has her self-doubts, and even indulges in a little victimhood as she complains about the ruthlessness of her chosen profession. The surprising fact that it isn't a linear progression rings more true. Mavericks exist in any generation. It isn't always the current one that has the best to offer.

The world presented here is a dark one, punctuated as it is with madness, a drowning, hospitalization, unfulfilled desires, and an unhappy marriage, but realism is never used for the sake of preventing nostalgia, and never overwhelms. Moments of genuine humor are juxtaposed with seriousness. Though you may find yourself wishing the characters would emerge unscarred, happiness is not found in the avoidance of pain. It's found, wisely, in the midst of it—through the loyalty of sisterhood and through the honoring of the past as an ever-present force.

Alice Fulton's debut would appeal to any reader fascinated by the evolution of women's roles throughout the past, or to those who enjoy stories about love in its many guises. The stories succeed beautifully in drawing the world inhabited by these "Nightingales of Troy", who, like Florence Nightingale, minister to those around them.

*French chalk is a type of talc (hydrated magnesium silicate) used by tailors for marking cloth, by cleaners for removing grease from cloth, and as a dry lubricant in a number of applications including many bicycle repair kits. Prussian blue is a very dark blue, colorfast, non-toxic pigment, so named because it was first extensively used to dye the uniforms of the Prussian army. One of the first synthetic dyes, it was discovered accidentally in Berlin in 1704.

Reviewed by Karen Rigby

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in August 2008, and has been updated for the August 2009 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Read-Alikes

Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Nightingales of Troy, try these:

  • Birds of a Lesser Paradise jacket

    Birds of a Lesser Paradise

    by Megan Mayhew Bergman

    Published 2012

    About this book

    More by this author

    A heartwarming and hugely appealing debut collection that explores the way our choices and relationships are shaped by the menace and beauty of the natural world.

  • Unaccustomed Earth jacket

    Unaccustomed Earth

    by Jhumpa Lahiri

    Published 2009

    About this book

    More by this author

    Eight stories—longer and more emotionally complex than any Lahiri has yet written—that take us from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand as they enter the lives of sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, friends and lovers.

We have 5 read-alikes for The Nightingales of Troy, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes

Support BookBrowse

Join our inner reading circle, go ad-free and get way more!

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Henry Henry
    Henry Henry
    by Allen Bratton
    Allen Bratton's Henry Henry chronicles a year in the life of Hal Lancaster. Readers already ...
  • Book Jacket: The Last Murder at the End of the World
    The Last Murder at the End of the World
    by Stuart Turton
    The island is the only safe place left on Earth. Since a deadly fog overtook the planet, the ...
  • Book Jacket
    A Kind of Madness
    by Uche Okonkwo
    The word "madness," like many others that can be used to stigmatize mental illness — e.g., "...
  • Book Jacket: Long After We Are Gone
    Long After We Are Gone
    by Terah Shelton Harris
    Terah Shelton Harris's marvelous family drama Long After We Are Gone begins with the death of the ...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
Look on the Bright Side
by Kristan Higgins
From the author of Pack Up the Moon comes a funny, romantic, and moving novel about life's unexpected rewards.
Book Jacket
The Pecan Children
by Quinn Connor
Two sisters deeply tied to their small Southern town fight to break free of the darkness swallowing the land whole.
Win This Book
Win Bright and Tender Dark

Bright and Tender Dark by Joanna Pearson

A beautifully written, wire-taut debut novel about a murder on a college campus and its aftermath twenty years later.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

A W in S C

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.