British-born Morley (The Case of Thomas N., 1987) fails to put Munich on the literary map in a pretentious second novel that makes the city the heart of a heavily symbolic structure, as creaky as the scenery for Munich's famed carnival balls. Beginning on September 23, the day that marks the autumnal equinox, and ending on March 20, the first day of spring, the story uses the great festivals of the old pagan and Christian calendars as milestones to advance the plot—a plot that seems to have been hatched up mostly to demonstrate that this is indeed a novel, rather than the Rabelaisian travelogue for tourists with special tastes it so often seems. The two strands, mythic and religious, are represented by sisters Stephanie (pagan) and Martha (Christian). Beautiful Stephanie, the story's contemporary Persephone, mysteriously disappears on the day she marries artist Brum and does not reappear until spring. It turns out she has moved in with gloomy but rich Max, the CEO (in a turn of breathtakingly obvious symbolism) of a funeral home conglomerate. Martha, the devout sister, is pregnant and, though married, uncertain of the baby's paternity, a fact that segues neatly into the Christmas Day birth of her twins. As the leaves fall, the seasons turn, the sun enters Scorpio, saints' days come and go, and the city enjoys its traditional and lubricious Oktoberfests, Christmas revels, and pre- Lenten carnivals (the actual Feast of Fools), Brum struggles to understand why Stephanie left him. Minor characters find love, Martha finally lets long-suffering husband Hieronymus enter her ``cone of light,'' and as the Sun rises higher in the sky, snows melt, and Stephanie returns in time for Spring. Life in quaint, naughty Munich can go on...and on. A wannabe big novel that has its moments—the writing is often vivid—but they're not enough. Beer with too much head.
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