July 23, 1952
Well, I’m back. London was all right, Paris was terrible, and I never made it down to Rome. They say it’s the hottest summer they’ve had since before the war. And except for the weather, I’m afraid there’s not much else to report. The address you gave me --- Julian left there about a week ago….
Beatrice Nightingale’s brother, Marvin, recently re-insinuated himself into her life in an effort to harangue her to bring his wayward son, Julian, back from Paris. The worthless boy is causing his mother a great deal of distress. Or so Marvin says. Well, Bea tried --- several times while on her vacation --- but her nephew had disappeared again.
Now she has settled back into her life in New York, teaching boys who are full of taunts, jeers and occasional glimmers of appreciation for Bea’s favorite literary characters. She has put thoughts of Julian behind her; after all, she barely knew her nephew anyway. But Marvin doesn’t take Bea’s failure well. He insists she go back and --- this time, for God’s sake --- make sure she convinces Julian to come home. He’d do it himself, but he has very important business to attend to. Besides, how hard could it be? It’s a simple request, and anyone but the most inept individual should be able to do it. And to help in that endeavor, Marvin is sending his daughter, Iris, to give Bea some tips over a long weekend break from her studies.
However, Iris has other ideas. How about if she were to go to Paris instead? Bea could stay home, and all Iris would need is for her aunt to do one teensy favor: convince Marvin that all is going according to plan --- so well, in fact, that Iris needs to stay on a little longer. After all, Bea has her job, and, despite Marvin’s belittling of its value, she still believes she makes a difference. At least a little one.
Eventually, it dawns on Bea that Iris, too, is not coming home. In fact, it was never her intention to leave Paris once she had arrived. Sorry, Aunt Bea. So it is that Bea has to retrieve both her niece and her nephew. But what she manages to do is begin a string of deceptions that build one atop another and finally rise to an awful crescendo. It seems that Bea finally reached her limit, and now she’s pushing back. And when Beatrice Nightingale pushes back, she pushes back in a big way. Fed up and tired of being manipulated --- first by her brother, then by her husband, and now by her niece --- Bea simply has had enough.
Why did she make up all those lies? Can she live with the consequences? Would she do it the same way, given a chance to do it over? You decide. As you fly through the pages, the questions multiply in Cynthia Ozick’s distinctive prose. Based loosely on THE AMBASSADORS by Henry James, FOREIGN BODIES is a fantastic re-imagining of the classic story.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on November 3, 2011