Once again, Cheever (The Plagiarist, 1992) chronicles life with a distinguished writer—in a novel that's even more diffuse than his first. Not nearly as funny as it thinks it is, this hurried fiction sets off in all sorts of directions, and never finds its way back. Nelson Collingwood, a 20-year-old virgin, and his sexually advanced sister live with their guardians, Aunt Elspeth and Uncle Jonas, in Westchester. Jonas is a much-admired but always broke novelist who rents a house on the Rockefeller estate, where he imposes his high-cultural view of things (e.g., no TV). After 16 novels with a small publisher known primarily for farm equipment catalogues, Jonas receives a huge advance for a WW II memoir, which his new publisher hopes will be his breakout book—the only problem being some doubt about Jonas's actual involvement in the war. Meanwhile, NYU student Nelson, an aspiring ad-copywriter, works for the summer at a local freebie ad paper, all the while pining for one Amy Rose, a suburban goddess spending her summer in Washington State. Nelson's ``Goodbye Columbus'' story is soon superseded by strange doings at home, where an obsequious biographer has attached himself to Jonas. All of which forces the family to reexamine its rather odd history, involving Aunt Elspeth's much prettier sister and the true parentage of Nelson and his own sister. While the biographer flatters his way into Jonas's life, Jonas's obnoxious new editor pressures him for a real commercial book. And Jonas delivers in record time so that he can bail out his sister-in-law from a bad debt and also buy Nelson a fancy car, which becomes the vehicle of his accidental death. Cheever fleshes out this elliptical tale with lots of sitcom sarcasm, plenty of bad jokes, and many pointless barbs at the innocent. His animus toward biographers and publishers may be justified, but seems like plain sour grapes here. All in all, a mess.
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