Binnie Kirshenbaum’s The Scenic Route (is) an idiosyncratic and totally winning “romance” in which sentiment and cynicism are poised in a most virtuoso performance.
— Joyce Carol Oates

Divorced, alone, and unexpectedly unemployed, Sylvia Landsman flees to Italy, where she meets Henry, a wistful, married, middle-aged expatriate.

Taking off on a grand tour of Europe bankrolled with his wife's money, Henry and Sylvia follow a circuitous route around the continent—as Sylvia entertains Henry with stories of her peculiar family and her damaged friends, of dead ducks and Alma Mahler.

Her narrative is a tapestry of remembrances and regrets...and her secret shame: a small, cowardly sin of omission. Yet when the opportunity arises for Sylvia and Henry to do something small but brave, the refrain "if only" returns to haunt her, leaving Sylvia with one more story of love lived and lost.


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Praise for The Scenic Route

“The Scenic Route is a witty and poignant, and also an extremely interesting and acute, novel. Ms. Kirshenbaum mines a very rich seam that’s entirely her own. This is first-rate writing by a novelist who gracefully defies classification.”
—Richard Ford

“[A] moving, bittersweet novel."
—More Magazine

"It takes skill and assurance to pull off this beguiling narrative-by-digression, a love story-cum-family history-cum-confession of sins, and Kirshenbaum has both in plentiful supply . . . there are no happy endings here; instead, Kirshenbaum delivers capital-T truths."
—Publisher's Weekly, (starred review)

“I can't imagine what Kirshenbaum told people who asked, "So, what's your novel about?" and yet it's continually engaging, the illusion of artlessness that only the disciplined artist can carry off.”
—The Washington Post

“. . . Kirshenbaum offers a refreshingly gimlet-eyed examination of memory, one that cuts through the gauzy layers imposed by time.”
—Time Out New York

“Kirshenbaum’s distinctive voice transforms a lightly plotted novel into an enchanting, tangent-strewn meditation on memory, love and luck. The narrative is a meandering, slightly sorrowful account of two people in love, but not quite brave enough to come up with a plan for a shared future. Lovely prose and quirky observations carry Kirshenbaum’s seventh novel.”
—Kirkus Reviews

"Miraculously, Kirshenbaum avoids sentimentality. From the start, there is little room for a happy resolution. The slim hope makes it less fun and more tragic."
—Los Angeles Times


"Binnie Kirshenbaum is a fearlessly unsentimental storyteller, a gifted comic writer, and a thoughtful archaeologist of family life."
—Gary Shteyngart

"On The Hunt For Fabulous Fiction: “[The Scenic Route is]. . . . bitterly funny and intelligently pieced together. . . ."
—NPR Critic's Lists: Summer 2009

"Caught between a desire to forget and a need to remember, Binnie Kirshenbaum’s Sylvia is a brilliant creation — a sharp, funny, mournful voice that you just want to keep listening to, whether the topic is love, death, Jewish Easter, camel hair coats or the history of Arthur Murray’s dance franchise. The Scenic Route is a wonderful book and the best kind of road novel, less concerned with points A, B, and C than with the drama of those driving, their lust, their grief, their self- (and self-shedding) discoveries."
—Sam Lipsyte

“Sylvia is stand-up-comic hilarious, going off on uproarious tangents involving everything from Raisinettes to shampoo, assimilation, and Arthur Murray dance studios, and issuing zingers of startling precision. It’s good, droll fun, until pleasure gives way to denial, lies, and desperate measures, and the full implications of their pasts emerge. Not only are Sylvia and Henry fugitives from unloving parents and their own terrible mistakes, Sylvia also carries the indelible wounds of the Holocaust. Absurdly underrated Kirshenbaum is at her darkly comic and boldly encompassing best here, diverting us with hairpin-turn humor while slipping us hard truths about memory and inheritance, betrayal and guilt, and the inevitable end of the road.”


“. . . Binnie Kirshenbaum’s clever, offbeat novel The Scenic Route is an antidote to all that soft-focus sentiment. This is indeed a woman-has-midlife-crisis-and-finds-romance-in-Italy story, but it is so resolutely unsentimental, even antisentimental, that you won’t be dialing Alitalia anytime soon. Instead of escapist fantasy, narrator Sylvia Landsman offers a reality check, sobering truths about family, regret, loss, history—in fact, she provides commentary on all kinds of subjects. . . . Just about the only thing she doesn’t serve up is a happy ending.”
—The Daily Beast