Cover image for Splendid omens
Splendid omens
Wilson, Robley.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books, [2004]

Physical Description:
viii, 274 pages ; 22 cm
Electronic Access:
Publisher description
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It's 1993 and Alec Thompson is traveling to Maine, to witness at the marriage of his painter friend, Webb Hartley. When Alec arrives at the wedding scene, he is surprised that no one-including Pru Mackenzie, Webb's 30-year younger bride-to-be-is on hand to welcome him. He soon learns the reason; his best friend has suffered a fatal heart attack, and the wedding is off.

Webb's death sends Alec in search of Jenny Grant, Webb's first wife, to announce the news. The journey takes him from Webb's Maine farmhouse to a northern California horse ranch and leads him through both men's pasts, from college to the present. As he re-explores the events that had bound the three of them-both men had been rivals for Jenny's affection-Alec discovers, in the murky context of those days, that their lives were far more entangled than he had imagined. What Alec learns-and what Webb apparently wanted him to know-cuts to the very essence of the rest of Alec's life. Understanding what happened thirty years earlier is more important to him than ever.

Along the way, Alec's quest introduces him to a precocious twelve-year-old, an ultra-sophisticated divorce , a Native American psychic. All are part of Webb's legacy for Alec to comb his memory, and the memories of everyone still living, in order to realize the truth.

Vivid, poetic, and written with the same care and craft as the author's elegant short stories, Splendid Omens is both understated and shocking-and a deeply beautiful book that examines how different versions of the truth are like holograms that can re-create a life.

Author Notes

Robley Wilson has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a Nicholl Fellow in Screenwriting and is the author of five story collections, including Terrible Kisses , a New York Times notable book. He is the only writer to have won both major literary prizes offered by the University of Pittsburgh Press. His short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker , The Atlantic , Esquire , and many other publications. For thirty-one years, he edited the North American Review , and he now lives in Florida with his wife, fiction writer Susan Hubbard.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Alec, the narrator of this book, arrives in Wilson's Scoggin, Maine, to discover that Webb Hartley, a perennial Donuan and fairly unsuccessful artist, has dropped dead while helping set up for his wedding to a woman 30 years younger. The bequest of a painting Alec once criticized and a letter that sends him haring off to California point to tensions in this 40-year friendship, begun when the two men attended Bowdoin College. Secrets from their past drive the plot of this leisurely examination of an unlikely relationship. The book, divided into five sections, follows Alec's peregrinations from Maine to California and back to Maine, with the final section providing a sort of philosophical epilogue in which the narrator expresses noble intentions that one suspects may be short-lived. The first-person narrative is unhurried and introspective. Alec's self-involvement blinds him to subtleties and renders him unsympathetic. This exploration of a tortured friendship and the wreckage left in its wake will appeal to admirers of Louis Begley, Carolyn Chute, and Canadian Alan Cumyn. --Ellen Loughran Copyright 2004 Booklist

Library Journal Review

When 62-year-old Alec arrives in Maine to act as best man at his friend Webb's fourth or fifth wedding, he discovers that Webb has just died. Alec must now comfort Webb's much younger fianc?e Prudence and explain the situation to Jenny, Webb's first wife, who now lives in California. Rather than describing love until death, the story depicts the death of love as it affects the relationships of those close to Webb. Individual betrayals revolve around Alec, Webb, Jenny, and Prudence, uncovering hidden agendas and undisclosed history. Sadly, no one is what he or she seems to be. Ultimately, kind, caring Alec realizes that by going to see Jenny-his last act of friendship toward Webb-he will bring closure to tangled relationships on many levels. Poignant, emotional, and compassionate, this work from poet/novelist Wilson (The Victim's Daughter; A Pleasure Tree) is recommended for public libraries.-Ellen R. Cohen, Rockville, MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.