A sharp, sad portrait of the vagaries of the literary life. Schiller, the author of four well-received but long out-of- print novels, a tidy, precise, ironic figure, and a man consumed much of his life by the need to pursue the ``perfection of the work,'' has long since given up on any real hope of visibility when a young woman seeks him out. Heather, just 24, is writing her master's thesis on Schiller's slender body of work. Ambitious, blithely self-centered, she views Schiller as a useful crusade, a way of forcing herself onto the academic and publishing scenes. The elderly Schiller, left fragile and exhausted by a series of brushes with mortality, is at first wary of her, bemused by the idea of anyone paying much attention to what he views as a failed career. Her insistent presence also prods he into coming to grips with the guilt and regret he has stored up about his life, including the early death of his wife, and the hectic, unfocused life of Ariel, his middle-aged daughter. Almost inevitably, Schiller finds himself falling in love with the seemingly worshipful Heather, an emotion she encourages, with predictably dire results. Schiller is moved to begin again on a novel long set aside, and Heather imagines that she will be the muse inspiring the creation of his greatest work. Then Schiller has a stroke and, in a series of terse, acerbic scenes, Morton deftly strips away the illusions these characters have spun about their lives. Ariel finds a measure of independence and maturity and, in a nicely rendered interlude, a chance at genuine romance. Heather's lies and manipulations catch up with her, though her exposure does not necessarily alter her behavior. And Schiller, near death, begins to reach some measure of peace. Second-novelist Morton (The Dylanist, 1991) believably anatomizes the yearnings (and furies) that fuel the literary life, and in Schiller he has shaped a sad, wry portrait of the writer as a deluded but decent—and ultimately rather noble—Everyman.
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