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Originally published Friday, July 26, 2013 at 5:05 AM

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‘Fin & Lady’: martinis and the Mets in 1960s Manhattan

Cathleen Schine’s lovely short novel “Fin & Lady” follows the paths of two half-siblings as they negotiate the world of New York and Capri in the 1960s. Schine reads Aug. 1 at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Cathleen Schine

The author of “Fin & Lady” will appear at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave., Seattle; free (206-624-6600 or elliottbaybook.com).

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The achingly lovely “Fin & Lady” is a time machine back to 1960s New York City — with side trips to the Italian island of Capri.

“Fin & Lady” (Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 273 pp., $26), the latest novel from Cathleen Schine (“The Three Weissmanns of Westport”), begins with young Fin, who is already an old hand at funerals, having lost his father and grandparents. Now, at 11, he is grappling with the death from cancer of his gentle, devoted mother.

His only remaining relative is his paternal half-sister, Lady, 24, who becomes his guardian. Fin has not seen free-spirit Lady in six years when he and his collie, Gus, hop into her Karmann Ghia and leave behind his grandparents’ farm in Connecticut for a new life in a Greenwich Village brownstone.

Lady, in her Twiggy-esque false eyelashes and white go-go boots, fascinates Fin. She is a trust-fund baby with brains and beauty who spends her days cavorting around the Big Apple. Fin (named for the word for “The End” in the closing credits of a French film) is whisked to museums, Mets games, the World’s Fair: “Lady’s downtown world was one of urgent, restless urbanity. Everything about his new home was full of color and noise and movement. To Fin it was as good as a circus.” Stability comes in the form of Lady’s levelheaded housekeeper, Mabel. Routines include Tuesday dinners of chicken Kiev at the Russian Tea Room and cocktail hour, with Fin mixing martinis for Lady and her friends.

Among these friends are ardent suitors who flock around fickle Lady. Fin’s favorite is kind Biffi, a Hungarian émigré. Biffi’s mother, Mrs. Deutsch, also becomes part of Fin and Lady’s orbit. A World War II survivor, she hides her jewels in a greasy pastry bag she carries everywhere; has a penchant for Champagne and “Bonanza”; and has her son’s “bursts of gaiety and underlying melancholy.”

The novel follows wise and witty Fin from 11 to 18 and beyond, through friendships and crushes; anti-Vietnam protests; concerts at the Fillmore East; devotion to The New York Times’ obituary pages; and ultimate forgiveness of his beloved Lady’s escapades.

Capri, an enchanted place of sparkling water and Roman ruins where “enormous lemons hung from vines,” is Lady’s refuge. It is where she falls in love with someone who gives her “what no one had ever thought to give her, what no one realized she needed. Not protection or guidance or lectures or even ardent, worshipful love. But shelter. As passive and unquestioning and miraculous as a blue cave.”

In addition to memorable characters and evocative writing, Schine gives readers a gift near the end of “Fin & Lady”: the revelation of its narrator’s identity, a bittersweet twist in keeping with the novel’s life-affirming tone.

Agnes Torres Al-Shibibi is a Seattle Times desk editor.

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