Cathleen Schine’s latest plays on the themes of earlier books - like The Three Weissmanns of Westport, it’s a sister story, and like Fin and Lady, it’s steeped in a nostalgic New York of a slightly earlier time. And it’s filled with the sparkling writing that we’ve come to know in her previous novels, but this time she takes it to another level, even opening each chapter with a definition from Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, the very same Johnson who is the subject of our store’s namesake biography. Daphne and Laurel Wolfe, in a way, represent two versions of the dictionary itself, one the descriptive poet and the other the prescriptive columnist, and it’s a mark of nurture over nature that Schine chronicles what led to this uncrossable divide, like Manhattan and Brooklyn when the subways are down. So many authors of late are fascinated by what drives sisters apart – if you interpreted life by reading novels, you’d think that by adulthood, it was rare to find two siblings in communication. And yet, as this is clearly a parlor comedy with definite Laurie Colwin-esque vibes, we know that there will one day be a bridge. But even if there wasn’t one, I’d just as soon be stranded in the East River, as long as I had The Grammarians to keep me company.— Daniel Goldin
An enchanting, comic love letter to sibling rivalry and the English language.
From the author compared to Nora Ephron and Nancy Mitford, not to mention Jane Austen, comes a new novel celebrating the beauty, mischief, and occasional treachery of language.
The Grammarians are Laurel and Daphne Wolfe, identical, inseparable redheaded twins who share an obsession with words. They speak a secret “twin” tongue of their own as toddlers; as adults making their way in 1980s Manhattan, their verbal infatuation continues, but this love, which has always bound them together, begins instead to push them apart. Daphne, copy editor and grammar columnist, devotes herself to preserving the dignity and elegance of Standard English. Laurel, who gives up teaching kindergarten to write poetry, is drawn, instead, to the polymorphous, chameleon nature of the written and spoken word. Their fraying twinship finally shreds completely when the sisters go to war, absurdly but passionately, over custody of their most prized family heirloom: Merriam Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition.
Cathleen Schine has written a playful and joyful celebration of the interplay of language and life. A dazzling comedy of sisterly and linguistic manners, a revelation of the delights and stresses of intimacy, The Grammarians is the work of one of our great comic novelists at her very best.
About the Author
Cathleen Schine is the author of They May Not Mean To, But They Do, The Three Weissmanns of Westport, and The Love Letter, among other novels. She has contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, and The New York Times Book Review. She lives in Los Angeles.
Named one of the best books of 2019 by Vanity Fair and a Kirkus Reviews' Best Fiction of 2019 selection
"Schine's warmth and wisdom about how families work and don't work are as reliable as her wry humor, and we often get both together . . . This impossibly endearing and clever novel sets off a depth charge of emotion and meaning." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Schine's sparkling latest [is] both a fizzy exploration of the difficulties of separating from one's closest ally and a quirky meditation on the limits of language for understanding the world." — Publishers Weekly
"Captivating . . . written with the tender precision and clarity of a painting by Vermeer . . . [a] wry and elegant novel." —Ann Levin, Associated Press
"A delightful new novel . . . Schine takes her readers on deep philosophical dives but resurfaces with craft and humor; her tone is amused and amusing." —Susan Dominus, The New York Times Book Review
“The mother of the beguilingly unusual twins whose lives unfold in this sublime comic novel could not adore them more than I do. A singular delight for anyone who has ever marveled at the quirks and beauties and frustrations of English grammar, and a fascinating portrait of the passions and dramas of fierce familial love.” —Sigrid Nunez, National Book Award–winning author of The Friend
"This tale of twins who "elbow each other out of the way in the giant womb of the world" is smart, buoyant and bookish — in the best sense of the word." —Heller McAlpin, NPR
"Cathleen Schine’s new novel, The Grammarians, is a rich study of the factions that attempt to define how language should be used."—Lauren Leibowitz, The New Yorker
"Cathleen Schine’s marvelous new novel is a book besotted with words . . . But you don’t need to be a writer or editor to fall under Schine’s spell. The Grammarians is about family, the ebb and flow of our deep and tenuous connections to the people who make us who we are." —Connie Ogle, Star Tribune
“One might well expect a novel about dictionary-obsessed identical twins to throw off one clever, coruscating observation or bit of wordplay after another, like a kind of literary Catherine wheel. And The Grammarians certainly does that, and does it wonderfully well. Yet as I read on I found myself not only fascinated and amused—because, I must underline, it’s often hugely funny—but deeply moved, because this is also a novel of great and often aching feeling.” —Benjamin Dreyer, New York Times–bestselling author of Dreyer’s English
"Schine’s latest page-turning charmer is a warm, witty, and weird ode to sisterhood and language."—Entertainment Weekly
“This is an utterly charming book, and yet more than that. It is a book of real people and their relationship—both to language and to each other. Fresh as a white sheet of paper, it is clean and lovely; an absolutely delightful read.” —Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer Prize–winning author