March 2013 Indie Next List
“The main characters in this lovely gem of a novel are loosely based on Flannery O'Connor and Robert Lowell. The story is told entirely in the form of letters -- not an easy feat, but Bauer makes it work beautifully. Frances and Bernard meet in the late 1950s at a writer's colony, and though they don't immediately click, Bernard sends Frances a letter that begins an intense philosophical, spiritual, and physical relationship. A true treat for readers!”
— Cody Morrison, Square Books, Oxford, MS
"A novel of stunning subtlety, grace, and depth . . . compos[ed in] dueling letters of breathtaking wit, seduction, and heartbreak." —Booklist, starred review
A letter can spark a friendship.
A friendship can change your life.
In the summer of 1957, Frances and Bernard meet at an artists’ colony. She finds him faintly ridiculous, but talented. He sees her as aloof, but intriguing. Afterward, he writes her a letter. Soon they are immersed in the kind of fast, deep friendship that can take over—and change the course of—our lives.
From points afar, they find their way to New York and, for a few whirling years, each other. The city is a wonderland for young people with dreams: cramped West Village kitchens, rowdy cocktail parties stocked with the sharp-witted and glamorous, taxis that can take you anywhere at all, long talks along the Hudson River as the lights of the Empire State Building blink on above.
Inspired by the lives of Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell, Frances and Bernard imagines, through new characters with charms entirely their own, what else might have happened. It explores the limits of faith, passion, sanity, what it means to be a true friend, and the nature of acceptable sacrifice. In the grandness of the fall, can we love another person so completely that we lose ourselves? How much should we give up for those we love? How do we honor the gifts our loved ones bring and still keep true to our dreams?
In witness to all the wonder of kindred spirits and bittersweet romance, Frances and Bernard is a tribute to the power of friendship and the people who help us discover who we are.
"A story of conversion, shattered love and the loss of faith, recalling 20th century masters like Graham Greene and Walker Percy…Frances is refreshingly down-to-earth in her spiritual convictions…Bauer gets right… the shifting balance of literary ambition and emotional need, Yeats’s old choice between perfection of the life or of the work. Bauer is herself a distinctive stylist who can write about Simone Weil or Kierkegaard with wit and charm. A fresh voice thinking seriously about what a religiously committed life might have felt like and perhaps, in our own far-from tranquil period, might feel like again." -
New York Times Book Review "Graceful and gem-like
…. Through Bauer’s sharp, witty, and elegant prose, [Frances and Bernard] become vibrant and original characters
…. These are not your typical lovebirds, but writers with fierce and fine intellects.… We are reminded of the power of correspondence — the flirtation of it, the nervousness, the delicious uncertainty of writing bold things and then waiting days, weeks, or even months for a reply. After finishing this sweet and somber novel, we might sigh and think, 'It's a shame we don’t write love letters anymore' — before stopping for a moment to marvel at the subtlety of what Bauer has wrought out of history and a generous imagination, and being thankful that someone still is."--Boston Globe "Frances and Bernard
portrays two writers drawn into a friendship sparked by mutual admiration. They elegantly convey their reflections, encouragements and chastisements in letters written over a span of 11 years…Bauer captures the style and language of the period with gleeful dexterity
.…Bauer is masterful
in whipping up the frenzy of Bernard’s unstable certainty that she is the answer to his Olympian quest…Bauer, who has published a memoir about her evangelical childhood and subsequent conversion to Catholicism, writes with authority and gusto about issues of faith
. The prose here is exquisite, winding between narrative momentum and lofty introspection
. And she employs the epistolary form nimbly, providing an intimate, uncluttered space for her characters to develop
. The most unexpected pleasure of this period love story is spending time in the company of people who are engaged in the edifying pursuit of living as Christians — a good reminder that
, regardless of the current upheaval in the church, the big questions are still worth asking
. -- The Washington Post
"A debut novel of stunning subtlety, grace, and depth
. Bauer’s use of the epistolary form is masterful as she forges a passionately spiritual, creative, and romantic dialogue between characters based on two literary giants famous for their brilliant letters, Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell
. Though she changes the particulars of O’Connor’s life, Bauer retains the great writer’s rigor, humor, faith, penetrating insights, and wisdom. Bauer is phenomenally fluent in the voices and sensibilities she so intently emulates, composing dueling letters of breathtaking wit, seduction, and heartbreak
. Spanning a stormy decade, Bauer’s piercing novel is dynamic in structure, dramatic in emotion and event, and fierce in its inquiry into religion, love, and art.
"There are so many reasons to love this perfect novel, not least because before our eyes, Bauer quietly reveals the lovers to each other, and to themselves
, while she explores all of the important problems of faith, work, art, marriage, passion, and how best to lead the life that you think you're meant to live. Frances and Bernard
is smart and clear and deep and beautiful.
I worship it." – Jane Hamilton"I'll never stop raving about FRANCES AND BERNARD.
I loved, admired and devoured it; didn't want it to end. What is better than a good
novel in letters? A great one. Carlene Bauer has written a book that is dear, brilliant, and unforgettable
."--Elinor Lipman "Short but satisfying
...well written, engrossing
, and succeeds in making Frances and Bernard’s shared interest in religion believable and their relationship funny, sweet, and sad. A lovely surprise.
(starred)"A series of erudite
letters, some of which are exchanged between the two rich and somewhat eccentric protagonists
, and some are written by these characters to others. This remarkable method of storytelling
provides snapshots of the events that shape the story."--Library Journal
"I have rarely encountered historical fiction that seems to spring so authentically from the period in which it's set. The two correspondents in Carlene Bauer's book, along with their families and friends, come wittily alive in the letters they exchange, and those letters end up accumulating a terrific narrative and emotional force. Bauer recaptures a time in which people took one another more seriously, an era when they still inclined toward epistolary explorations instead of self-promoting tweets. Frances and Bernard is one of the best first novels I've read in years.
" --Thomas Mallon"Dazzling and gorgeously written
, FRANCES AND BERNARD features a pair of brilliant, complicated writers who present themselves to each other in letters that form the most exciting epistolary novel in recent memory
. A slim book, it still seems to say all of the important things about friendship, faith, love, the literary life, and especially the costs of living as an artist while still inhabiting the real world. It’s a marvel
." – Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen’s Pier
and Songs Without Words
"I had ten pages left as the bus pulled into my home station, and I wanted to murder the driver for rousting me from my seat. Instead of heading home, I stood in the parking lot and finished the book right then and there. I did not merely love Frances and Bernard; I worried myself sick over them. And the prose! So delectable you could eat it for dessert.
"– Monica Wood, author of When We Were the Kennedys
and Any Bitter Thing
"A truly original, very moving novel about how sometimes the deepest relationships in our lives are also the most impossible
. The letters between Frances and Bernard-- which begin as witty, sometimes wary, and full of unusual confidences about love and spiritual matters-- explode with passion on the page. My eyes filled with tears. It is wonderful to read something so rare and true. What a rich writer and two unforgettable lovers!
" -- Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude and Camille: a novel of Monet
and The Physician of London
(American Book Award)"A surprising and insightful novel
… blooming with richness and intelligence
…. The two [main characters] share and joust and tease and advise and explore and analyze and admire …. The careful trajectory of their intertwining and deepening relation becomes "a beautiful thing" — these two voices in Bauer’s fine rendering sing counterpoint that is exhilarating, and heartbreaking….
Their relation stirs into the love, for each, of a lifetime. A marvelous tracing of these lives
." -- Buffalo News