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New York City, 1975: Decent-hearted but spoiled Jewish college kid Ben Steiner is naively possessed by an overwhelming desire to be cool. At a springtime party on the night of his twenty-first birthday, he meets two people: Rebecca Glaser, the longed-for sweet girl of his dreams, and P.T. Deighland, a beguilingly knavish wiseacre from Princeton. Seduced by Deighland’s cocksure irreverence while simultaneously succumbing to his own temptations, Ben makes a cascading series of unfortunate choices which not only threaten his budding relationship with Rebecca, but expose him to ruin at the hands of a ravishing but ruthless fashion model named Anthea Montague.
Against the background of a vanished period in American history, STAINER offers a bittersweet nostalgic trip back to a less complex world, during a time of incautious excesses that, while deceptively fun and carefree, in due course forced many unwary youngsters like Benjamin Steiner to learn some necessary –albeit painful– lessons about growing up.
A wonderfully nuanced and compelling read, Stainer proves a genuine gem of a novel, with Woulff effortlessly capturing the highs and lows of growing up in the nineteen seventies. Eminently readable and consistently entertaining it has an openness that is unexpected with Woulff creating a cast of characters who seem wholly plausible. When it comes to coming of age novels the quality of plot and narrative is widely variable but Woulff excels on both counts and it’s hard not to be drawn into Ben’s world. He’s naïve enough to solicit empathy and grounded enough to spark recognition from her readers whilst his character creates a strong centre for evolving events. But what makes Woulff’s book so special and authentic is its sense of realism and her ability to deal with the complex issues of identity, belonging and connection without resorting to time worn tropes. As an adult, it takes you back to when you were an adolescent as she encourages us to embrace the contradictions and idiosyncrasies of our formative years. That time when we were caught between childhood and maturity, and on this level, Stainer is sure to engender broad appeal.
A terrific read and a fabulous introduction to the musings of Iolanthe Woulff, STAINER: A novel of the 'Me Decade' is recommended without hesitation.
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"Iolanthe “Lannie” Woulff came into the world as a male during the fifth year of the Truman presidency, which means that she is officially an antique. In 1958 her family moved from Manhattan to the island of St. Thomas, where “Nate”, as Lannie was then called, enjoyed swinging from jungle vines and swimming on beautiful unspoiled beaches. Moving back to the mainland as Vietnam protests convulsed the nation, Lannie gained admission to Princeton, and graduated in 1973 with a degree in English. For a while she lived in New York City, then Israel, then Virginia, but finally settled in the California resort town of Palm Springs. Eventually, fulfilling a lifelong imperative, Lannie commenced the complex and emotionally turbulent process of gender transition. She enjoys reading, fishing, target-shooting, cooking, doing absolutely nothing, and grilling steaks for her 102-year-old father, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Herman Wouk. Lannie has thus far published two novels: SHE’S MY DAD, and most recently, STAINER. Lord willin’ and the Creek don’t rise, more will follow."
About Iolanthe Woulff