Imagine, if you dare…
A soldier stands in the background, far away from the shaded beauty of the stairs directly below you. You can barely see the red-backed, leather-booted militia man but you can tell he walks with purpose, conviction. He’s looking to the right as if he’s about to turn into the lane and boldly move off into the next phase of life with his head held high, confident in his poise and precise in his footfalls. The beautiful spring day is made better by the vision of sun dappled ferns and leaves scattered haphazardly on the stones, billowing around as if they’ve just been disturbed by something….a man….a cloaked man, running after the soldier with a clear demeanor of distress. He runs as if he’s got something to say, something important.
Mysterious. Intriguing, you might say. Gracing the cover of Darcy and Fitzwilliam, Karen Wasylowski’s debut novel, the scene seems to speak, “Yes. Open me. Read me. It will prove interesting.” My senses were tingling, but guardedly. It was going to be a compelling tale of male bonding and growth, perhaps interspersed with a few allegories of debauchery and decadence. Was I about to stumble into a literary man cave? A wordy representation of a place where no female ought to poke her nose? Though the contemptible word “bromance” was used in the author’s own description of her work, her “baby” as she called it, I was moved to give the whole liking it thing a real shot, a good ‘ol college try. With such a lovely cover, it had to be better than a bromance, right? Would a sneaky look into a man cave be that bad?
Well, no. This story is amazing. It’s not just a glimpse into the idle lives of the extremely rich and entitled, and certainly not a flippant narrative of a life unbridled by the constraints of the middle class. It’s not just drinking and billiards, gambling and shooting, and it’s certainly not what I thought it would be (the man cave analogy is officially rebuked). This is a visceral tale that positively drips with social commentary, tackling problems that few Austenesque writers would attempt to undertake.
Ms. Wasylowski weaves a brilliant account of two separate lives, those of a married, measured, quiet man whose strength is in the details, and another loud, energetic, sometimes irksome chronic bachelor who uses his charisma to get what he needs out of life. I’m sure you know which is which, but I bet you’ll be surprised at just how engaging these two characters are. The book itself is divided into two volumes, the first of which deals with Mr. Darcy and his new bride. They’re happy but not irritatingly so (how refreshing), and in fact they engage in a knock-down-drag-out brawl within the first seven chapters! Elizabeth and Darcy slowly figure out their new life together, discovering flaws, faults, one giant secret, and stirring up all kinds of interesting social issues in the meantime. Sexual disparities show up, and Elizabeth marvels at her ignorance and jealously while Darcy is forced to deal with the formidable Lady Catherine DeBourgh (who, in this representation, is a feisty and delicious character). Later on in volume two, the life of Fitzwilliam “Richard” Darcy is explored more thoroughly, and the reader watches helplessly as his greed and foolishness finally catch up with him. What is he to do? Searching for answers at the bottom of a hip flask hasn’t been working out. He’s looking to find someone to spend his life with, but is forced to sift through piles of societal restrictions once he’s found her. England’s position on women, marriage, homosexuality, alcohol, even America’s treachery come into the picture, not tiptoeing over but literally smashing his dreams. What’s a guy to do?
There is little else anyone can say to you, clever reader, except this: Read this book. A cutesy romance of love and lace it is not. Darcy and Fitzwilliam is a gripping interpretation of life in Regency England, bravely attempting to bring issues of tension to the table. Domestic violence, alcoholism, harsh words, sex, royalism, and loathsome small-mindedness abound, and all through the vision of Jane Austen’s characters.
It’s intoxicating. It’s absorbing. It’s excellent.