Wilcox's special fiefdom, Tula Springs, Louisiana, is so sociologically spacious that by now he's able to ship in outsiders and watch how they do there. Gretchen Dambar (pronounced "Danner") is the second wife of a wealthy Tula Springs contractor in his 50s, married merely five months after their unlikely (and unsober) meeting in New Orleans. Gretchen is from the East, childless, overeducated and underworked, and thoughtlessly rich—an uncle in New England oversees her money, at least a million, which frees her to view things financial as vulgar and unworthy of talk. She's a vintage twit, in other words—and what comedy the ordinarily hilarious Wilcox (North Gladiola, Miss Undine's Living Room) musters here falls squarely on her twittiness. After being appalled at the lack of "culture" in Tula Springs, she finds herself accommodating by becoming pain-in-the-neck natural (". . .She was not giving up on the idea of purchasing a cow. It wasn't the milk and butter that interested her but the animal itself. To enter into a relationship with something so basic and primeval was bound to do her good. She really wished to care for something large and mute like that"). Then, when nature becomes too unappealing, she turns to social paranoia instead, suspecting her husband's household staff of trying to do her, her husband, and maybe even each other in. The ponytailed bachelor handyman, Leo Vogel, she especially mistrusts, and their dance around each other is the main event here. For all the indelibility of its completely eccentric yet—in context—utterly believable characters, this is the first Wilcox novel to drift sideways, punctuated only by blows of authorial fate, as in E.M. Forster. It goes nowhere special, and some of the satirical arrows shot Gretchen's way don't stick in because she's such a pincushion already. But Wilcox, even at his most feckless, as here, is still an unusually interesting novelist, never blind to comedies and honors where they're not supposed to be.
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